ALBANY, Ga. — The Albany City Commission is considering a special events curfew that would require anyone under 21 years of age to be in the presence of a parent or adult after 6 p.m. during downtown events like Mardi Gras, the 4th of July celebration and FlintFest.
Responding to violent incidents involving mostly teenagers at a number of recent community events, City Manager James Taylor proposed the extended curfew during the commission's work session Tuesday.
"Do I think this proposal is the answer to all our problems? No, I'd be idiotic to think that," Taylor said during a break in the meeting. "This is one option. One of the other options is to do nothing, and I refuse to do that."
Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike was critical of the proposal.
"What we'd be doing is, essentially, turning our police force into a babysitting service," he said. "The problem here is our inability to manage a crowd, not the crowd itself. If we're going to do large-scale events, we've got to figure out how to manage crowds."
When Taylor mentioned that the Albany Police Department's resources were limited in trying to cover "the 54 square miles (of the city) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," Pike was not conciliatory.
"When APD comes to this table asking for something, the vote for approval is usually unanimous," he said. "I'd say what we've approved is in excess of $10 million since I've been here. I don't understand how their options (for enforcement) are limited."
APD Chief John Proctor said his department would have to "make adjustments" if the curfew ordinance is approved by the commission.
"We're the ones who have to be in front of these things," he said. "My hope is that we will be able to gain some kind of compliance through better education. I hope we find a mechanism where we don't have to sit and hold hands (of non-lawbreakers under the age of 21). I'd prefer that we concentrate on the actual lawbreakers.
"But what many here don't understand is that a lot of the kids (involved in recent incidents) are not from Albany. They were from Terrell County and Worth County and other places, and their parents just dropped them off and went elsewhere."
Like Pike, Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines questioned the wisdom of such a restrictive ordinance.
"You're saying that no college students would be welcome at our events," Hines said. "That seems strenuous to me from a parent's perspective."
Acknowledging the strict nature of the ordinance, Taylor said there was wiggle room for alterations if the commission desired. Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta suggested lowering the curfew age from 21 to 18.
"The intent here is to make sure parents don't just drop off their kids," Taylor said. "If you want to loosen the standards, we can. But we're looking for the source of the problems that have existed at (recent) events downtown, and we've determined that that source is primarily the unchaperoned, unmanaged minors running around."
Businessman Sam Shugart, who is the driving force behind the Oct. 12-14 Georgia Throwdown at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds in Albany, said he planned to utilize the guidelines of the city's proposed curfew ordinance at that festival to make sure there are no such issues there.
"A lot of the people who caused these problems downtown won't be at our festival, but Chief Proctor and APD will have a unique opportunity to see a working model," Shugart said.
If the commission approves the curfew, which would be in effect on the days of special events from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following day, at its Sept. 25 business session, the ordinance would first impact the Oct. 6 FlintFest.