HITCHCOCK — Some Hitchcock residents are concerned that a proposed ordinance governing large events might drive off festivals and discourage new visitors. 

The City Commission is considering a “mass gathering” ordinance. Commission members were given a sample ordinance that would require any event that attracts at least 300 people to apply for a permit that could cost as much as $10,000.

The ordinance would apply to any crowd of more than 150 if most of those attending are expected to be younger than 21 and if alcohol is being served. 

The proposed ordinance and the potential price tag associated with it have some festival organizers and residents concerned. 

But Mayor Anthony Matranga said the ordinance language, which he said comes from a 1981 Santa Fe ordinance, was just meant to be an example — something to help the commission as it drafts its own language. 

He said he would meet with the city attorney to go over the proposed ordinance, and then a workshop will be called in the coming weeks.

He said the sample ordinance, including the price of the permit, was just a starting point. He also said that many traditional events could be exempted. 

“We are trying to get something in the city so we can have some kind of control of what’s coming into the city,” Matranga said. 

While other cities in the county have ordinances and permitting processes for large events, Hitchcock does not, he said. 

But Commissioner Lee Sander called the proposed ordinance “ridiculous” and said it would affect everything from the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo to the Good Ole Days Celebration organized by the Hitchcock Chamber of Commerce, as well as Little League parades, church events and benefits and barbecue fundraisers. 

“They are hanging this on health and safety,” Sander said. 

Sander said that Matranga and Police Chief Clay Kennelly were trying to exert more control over the Fair and Rodeo committee, which contracts with the county to use Jack Brooks Park on state Highway 6. 

Both Matranga and Kennelly said Sander’s accusations were untrue.

Matranga said he would propose to exempt the County Fair and Rodeo as well as the Good Ole Days Celebration, church events, the VFW and sporting events such as the Little League. 

But event organizers are still worried. 

“It would hurt,” said Paul Tibaldo, president of the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo, speaking of a potentially hefty fee for a permit. 

The money raised by the fair and rodeo association goes toward scholarships and improvements to the fairgrounds, Tibaldo said.

Willie Windham, co-chair of the Good Ole Days Celebration, agreed a big permit fee would be a problem.

“That would break us and that would shut us down,” she said.

The celebration, which is in its 43rd year, brings in nearly 20,000 people, more than twice the population of Hitchcock, every year, she said. Proceeds go to organizations in town and keep the chamber running, she said. 

While she said she’s heard from the mayor that the celebration would be exempt, that exemption is not in the sample ordinance. 

The ordinance could have a negative effect on all kinds of events, said Sam Collins, owner of Stringfellow Orchard. 

Stringfellow Orchard is a venue for historical re-enactments, weddings and reunions. Collins said a smaller fee would make more sense, but as it is now the proposed ordinance would hurt. 

“This sends a message that we don’t want you in our town,” Collins said. “It is a barrier to tourism.”

Matranga said he is not trying to run anybody off or prevent anyone from having an event. The city simply does not have an ordinance that deals with large events, which means the city has no control over them, he said. 

Kennelly said a mass gathering ordinance, which most other cities have, would give the city a way to regulate large events. It would allow the city to make sure organizers have proper parking, insurance, fire escapes and security, Kennelly said. 

Municipal entities have events all the time,” Kennelly said. “This is a mechanism to ensure that anybody who is proposing to have an event goes through the proper process so that the government can regulate or oversee the event.”

 

Contact reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez at 409-683-5314 or chris.gonzalez@galvnews.com

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(5) comments

Dwight Burns

I would suggest the Mayor take a refresher course in American History.

I can still remember a time when the police would harass Blacks for gatherings of more then three, if not in a Church setting...

What is being suggested, is a slippery slope..

Find ways to bring people to the City instead of coming of with ways to keep them away.

PD Hyatt

This is what is going on in Washington D.C. More control over the citizens as the government does not trust the citizens to make wise decisions.... What is funny about this is that the government entities are not and have not been making wise decisions for awhile....All this ordinance is going to do is stop theses gatherings. Hitchcock has enough problems trying to grow without more rules and laws to stop people from coming here.... Of course that might be what the Mayor and the Police Chief want to do with this new set of rules....

Jake Linkey

The article did not specify a month that the SF mass gathering ordinance was approved, but since it was 1981 and the big rally in support of shrimping was held near Runge park on private property, I would think it came about as a reaction to the rally, because at the time (Feb)the city had to approve a permit for the planners to host the gathering no matter what peoples views were of groups or individuals attending. It is a slippery slope to use in an attempt to prevent or hinder groups the ability to meet. At some point depending on the makeup of a council, clear thinking may be clouded by folks who feel a fair and rodeo are dangerous to animals and should be suspended, or certain groups of people because of their political views or ethnic makeup should be hindered. We see this going on continuelly even across the country in once very successful outdoors, hunting and fishing shows some groups have tried to blackmail and hinder businesses from participating. We may not all agree with each other's views, but we should not try and prevent an event by imposing a financial hardship. Only prevent it if it is detrimental to the safety and health of those attending or the community.

Carlos Ponce

The Santa Fe mass gathering ordinance was passed on Wednesday February 4, 1981. The Galveston Daily News headline for Thursday February 5, 1981 reads," KKK action prompts SF mass meeting law."

Jl Hime

What would happen if 300 people wanted to demonstrate against the current elected government? Get arrested?

Thomas Jefferson - " When people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty."

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