By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
It hadn’t happened in Council President Art Murphy’s seven years sitting on the Special Events Committee, and Mayor Pasquale Menna said he’s never seen it in his two decades in Red Bank government.
But a clogged calendar and miscommunication between two West Side groups is pushing the council to tighten up its processes to grant special event requests.
It came to a head Wednesday night, when members of the two groups locked horns over rights for coveted street space next month, and prompted the council, hat in hand, to ask each for a little help.
The mixup traces back to a request to the special events committee from a group of Red Bankers, past and present, wanting to hold a community celebration dubbed the Red Bank Family Reunion Block Party, on Drs. James Parker Boulevard, between Bridge and Shrewsbury avenues, on August 13. The event was a lost tradition until a group of friends revived it last year.
The committee gave the OK, and the council approved it.
Meantime, the Celestial Lodge 36 of the Free & Accepted Masons booked a big to-do ceremony at its headquarters on Parker. That event was set to start at 6 p.m., causing a conflict with the block party, which was approved to run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Since the lodge’s celebration, honoring its 50-year members, is anticipated to draw a large crowd, the block party would cut off vehicular access and lodge lot parking.
The two sides sparred over rights to the street and blame for making plans without clearing them with the other.
Freddie Boynton, a lodge member, said he met with block party organizer Dale Weems to go over her plans for the 2010 edition of party. While criticizing the event for what he said was its rowdy and messy crowd, Boynton said Weems never got back to him on the exact date of this year’s event.
“She did not give us a date. She was supposed to get in touch. She didn’t,” he said.
Weems offered a different story.
She said she went to Boynton and lodge members back in November seeing if they would again open up their lodge for the party’s after-party. Lodge officials said OK, but for $1,000. Last year it was $400, so the reunion organizers, one of whom accused the lodge of using “strong-arm” tactics, took their business elsewhere.
Weems said she notified the lodge members over the phone that their block party would happen on August 13. Administrator Stanley Sickels said the borough was told by Weems that the lodge had no problem with the party being held on that date.
In May, the lodge scheduled its honorary ceremony for the same date, unaware of a conflict on the calendar, Boynton said.
It left borough officials in a tricky situation. The lodge had already advertised and sold tickets for its event, but at the same time, the block party attracts upwards of 500 people some from out of state and, filled with crowds and vendors, shuts down traffic on that section of Parker.
Officials asked Weems to accept two options: move the party around the block or bump up the end time so the street would be clear for lodge visitors at 6 p.m.
“I wish I could deal the cards where everybody could be happy, but we have a situation,” Murphy said. “As the council, we would be asking you politely to please work with us.”
After an hour going back and forth, Weems acquiesced. The block party will now run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., allowing both groups to hold their events.
Now the council has to fine-tune its approval process for special events, officials said. Menna said there may have to be some sort of notification requirement for requests brought to the committee to avoid another communication meltdown like the one Wednesday.
“The procedure served us well for all this time,” he said. “We’ve obviously got to tighten up the procedures.”
A tough lesson was learned on all sides, he said.
“This problem will not happen again next year,” Menna said.