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DDA says no political announcements at events

June 18, 2014 - Politics is not an appropriate part of a community event like Oxford Village's Concerts in the Park series.

That was the message the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board sent Monday night when it voted 4-3 that it "not allow any political announcements, pro or con, for issues or candidates" at events.

"We're there to provide entertainment for these people on Thursday night, period," said DDA Chairman Bill Dunn.

Voting in favor of the motion were DDA members Dave Bailey, Jerry Cremin, Ed Hunwick and Dunn. Voting against were DDA members Rod Charles, Pete Scholz and Susan Schurr.

The discussion and subsequent vote was sparked by an incident at the June 12 concert in Centennial Park in which an individual was given some microphone time prior to the band's performance and used it to encourage the audience to vote in favor of the Oxford Twp. Parks and Recreation community center proposals.

On the upcoming Aug. 5 ballot, voters will decide on a $20 million bond proposal to build, equip and furnish a community center in Stony Lake Township Park and a five-year, 0.05-mill tax to help operate it.

The individual who was allowed to address the crowd encouraged concert-goers to vote 'yes' three times:

n "We need you, your friends, your neighbors, anybody you know who's an Oxford resident to vote 'yes' on Aug. 5."

n "Seniors, guess what? It's free for you. We need you to vote. If you're not going to be here on Aug. 5, remember on the absentee ballot to vote 'yes' for the community center."

n "Please, it's so critical, spread the word – Aug. 5, we need your vote. Vote 'yes' on the proposed community center."

The pro-community center pitch was filmed by Oxford Community Television as part of the concert program.

Dunn, who raised the issue at the DDA meeting, said he doesn't believe community events like the summer concerts should be used to advocate "for or against" political issues or ballot questions, or allow politicians a venue to "strut their stuff."

"I think the DDA should have a motion that would discourage or outlaw this type of activity at any of the shows that we have," he said. "We're not running those shows. It's a community event, but I think we could show support for not having political discussion, for or against anything, at these shows."

The Concerts in the Park series, which is happening in Centennial Park every Thursday from 7-9 p.m. through Aug. 28, is put on and funded by the village, the DDA and various sponsors.

Dunn made it clear he's not looking to infringe on anyone's First Amendment right to discuss politics at the concert or hand out literature. His issue is with the practice of allowing individuals to have microphone time during community events to advocate for or against a political cause or candidate.

"To get up there at an event that's put on by the community, by the DDA, by the Village of Oxford, by the chamber of commerce – to have it (be) political in (any) way is just not right," he said.

Village Manager Joe Young reported to the DDA board that he addressed the matter with township Parks and Rec. Director Ron Davis, who was "not aware" of what had transpired at the concert.

"But he concurred, too, that any events, they should be nonpolitical," he said.

"I'll take full responsibility," Davis told this reporter. "We're just trying to get the information out to everybody we can."

Davis said he'd still like to be able to have a table set up at the concerts to distribute information about the proposed community center, but he understands the need to be "a little more considerate" by not making announcements to the crowd.

"We're sorry that it happened," Davis said. "It won't happen again."

Davis said it's better to not allow any political announcements at community events because "it's such a fine line" when it comes to picking and choosing who gets to speak and who does not.

"Everybody's issue or mission is just as important as everybody else's, so you're better off not doing anything," he said.

Cremin asked if there were any "guidelines" in place with regard to what people can do during the new open mic portion of the concert series, which occurs from 6 to 6:45 p.m.

Young explained the open mic portion is a venue for local talent that wants to perform music, sing, dance, etc.

Charles didn't believe it was necessary for the DDA board to pass any resolutions regarding this topic.

"I think the point has been made and I think we just move on," he said.

Bailey disagreed.

"If we do nothing, then the message is, 'Oh well, the DDA doesn't care,'" he said.

"I don't think that statement is true that nothing's been done," Charles replied. "It's been discussed and I think most people agree it was inappropriate. The message has been communicated . . . So, let's just move on. It's not worth making (it) too official because then you dig a deeper hole. You use these (broad) words like political. That means a lot of things to different people."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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