ALBANY, Ga. -- Cooler heads have since apparently prevailed, but an exchange among a pair of Albany City Commissioners and City Manager James Taylor at a pre-briefing prior to the commission's business meeting Tuesday night left the city's planned Independence Day fireworks celebration in doubt.
Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines broached the topic by asking Taylor about moving the fireworks show from the downtown area, where unruly teenagers have disrupted the event two of the last three years, to the Exchange Club Fairgrounds in Southwest Albany. Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell, who'd just arrived in the meeting room, picked up on the conversation after Taylor responded to Hines' question.
"I don't like the idea of having citizens pay to see the fireworks," Postell declared. "I'd rather not even have fireworks than to make people pay."
Taylor, who said Wednesday morning he'd polled commissioners after the meeting and had gotten a green light from each of them to go forward with the celebration, told Postell, "Y'all take the vote, and I'll cancel (the fireworks)."
Taylor told Hines, and he reaffirmed Wednesday morning, that he'd worked with Recreation and Parks Director Suzanne Davis as well as city fire and law enforcement officials to come up with an alternate plan after officials at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany canceled the base's annual July 4th celebration.
"We did not put any money in our budget for fireworks this year," Taylor said. "I talked with folks at the Marine base, and they said initially they planned to host a huge celebration and open it to the public. Then, with sequestration, they told us they planned to have a celebration just for the base. Finally, though, they said they couldn't work fireworks into their budget.
"I called Suzanne and asked her if it was too late to do some kind of fireworks show. We talked with law enforcement officials, and they said it would be difficult to do anything downtown. We're planning to use the (former) First Tee area as a downtown events location, but it's not ready. The sand hazards are not covered and there's a drainage ditch that might be hazardous for kids. So we started looking at other sites."
Davis said she found a willing new partner in the Exchange Club.
"(Exchange Club officials) said they've been wanting to have a July 4th event for years, so this turned into a perfect partnership," the recreation director said. "Everyone with the club has been very receptive, and they've been wonderful to work with.
"We had to have that kind of cooperation to put together a full-fledged, all-day, 3-til-midnight celebration with music, family entertainment, vendors and the fireworks."
Exchange Club President Skip Nichols said the club had not held an Independence Day event in the past out of deference to the city's celebration. But he said club members were more than happy to fill the breach.
"I've always thought we had the facility that would be perfect for this kind of event; we can do a bunch of stuff out here," Nichols said. "Downtown they have parking issues when it comes to large crowds, and, of course, they have security issues.
"What we plan to do is park the cars, just like we do during the fair. Cost will be $5 a carload with up to six people. Any more in a car, or any who walk up, will be $2 a person. We'll issue an armband that will allow them to get into the fairgrounds."
Funds taken in will be divided between the city and the Exchange Club, but the percentage has not been determined.
Hines told Taylor Tuesday night he was concerned about the message sent by moving the fireworks event out of downtown.
"We're encouraging people to come downtown, but we move a signature event away from downtown; what kind of message does that send?" Hines said. "I believe we're setting up an image that downtown is not safe. And then you have to wonder about the other events that are held there."
Taylor said his motives were misconstrued.
"I regret if that's the impression you got," the city manager said. "As a matter of fact, when the base canceled their show, I was determined to have (a fireworks) event to show (people who disrupted past events) that they were not going to spoil this for the entire community.
"Rather than have no Independence Day celebration, I dug and found the money to put one on."
Postell chastised Taylor for "not telling this board when you make a major decision like this."
Taylor said Wednesday he had emailed commissioners with the plan and had gotten no negative feedback. He said when he polled the board after its meeting, he informed commissioners he would "cancel the event (Wednesday) morning" if they were opposed to it.