Councilors take Jamboree to task for late request before granting it

Scott Swanson

The Sweet Home City Council voted 5-2 to approve a list of requests for closures and fee waivers from the Oregon Jamboree Tuesday, July 24, after a lengthy give-and-take exhange over particulars in the request and other concerns.

The list of street and park closures, fee waivers and permits was routine prior to the operation of the country music festival, which will be held Aug. 3-5 at Sweet Home High School and Sankey Park.

But councilors made it clear to Jamboree Festival Director Robert Shamek they were unhappy with the lateness of the request, which Shamek acknowledged was unusually tardy.

“There really is no excuse,” he told the council. “We’ve never had an issue before. I absolutely guarantee next year we’ll have it here on time.”

The list of requests included:

– Complete closure of Sankey Park and Weddle Bridge through Tuesday, Aug. 7;

– Partial closures of 14th Ave-nue between Kalmia and Grape streets;

– Partial closure of 18th Ave-nue from Long Street to Mountain View Road, including no parking designations along Ames Creek Road between Grape Street and Mountain View;

– Waiver of city Transient Merchant License fees for Jamboree vendors, city event fees for the festival, and of water service, equipment and some employee service fees;

– Approval of public address system permits for the Main Stage, for Sankey Park and, on Thursday night, Aug. 2, for 18th Avenue adjacent to the Jamboree grounds, where a free Kick Off Concert for the community is planned from 4 to 10 p.m.;

– Permission to use city property on 24th Avenue to park semi trucks and equipment; and

– Permission to use Northside Park for camping; and

– Permission to use city property, including a portion of Sankey Park, for beer gardens.

The conversation and questions, including a list previously submitted by council members to which Shamek responded during the meeting, were wide-ranging. They included street closures and impacts on neighboring residents, costs to the city, public safety and insurance coverage.

Responding to a question about whether the Jamboree could reimburse property owners “inconvenienced” by the festival, he acknowledged that “obviously, a couple are not happy every year, but with 100 of them right in the area, I’m not sure how we would reimburse them.”

He said that a requirement that neighbors come to the Jamboree office to pick up parking passes has worked well in building relationships with those people, but he said that the festival could mail or deliver passes to those who couldn’t make it to the office by a set date in the future.

Council member Bob Briana questioned Shamek about the kickoff party, asking whether the performers were local artists.

Shamek said performers, including some artists who will perform at the Jamboree, were not from the area but that the event was planned to include participants in local arts programs.

“It’s really just to give back to the community,” he said of the celebration. “It’s going to be a little larger this year than in the past. We want to get kids involved. We know the arts programs are struggling and that’s why we’re partnering with them.”

Briana also asked about the length of the event.

“Before, it was two hours. Now it’s six hours. What are you going to do for four hours?”

Shamek responded that at previous kickoff events, artists only performed “for a few minutes.” He said more artists are involved this time and they will perform for longer periods, which requires more time.

Briana also asked why Sankey Park needed to be closed for a week around the event.

Shamek said that because of the electrical equipment and forklifts in the park during the event – “when the fences come down there are just a lot of hazards in there” and that it’s a “safety issue.”

“That’s a long time to close the park,” Briana said.

Councilor Diane Gerson, a former board member for the Sweet Home Economic Development Group, which puts on the festival, said she supported the Jamboree but that she was uncomfortable with “the process.”

She questioned whether there were written agreements for services provided by city staff.

“I’m not aware of written agreements,” Shamek said. “It’s always been verbal. I know, in the last 10 years, that the agreement has been in place.”

Gerson pointed out that other services provided to the festival – entertainers, vendors and the school district were covered by contract, and asked why the city didn’t have a contract.

“I don’t like that,” she said.

Eva Jurney, a member of the city Planning Commission and Library Board, echoed some of Gerson’s concerns later. She asked about a “very vague” line item on the list of requests from the Jamboree that read “general assistance from the city” and what that entailed.

She also questioned a description of the Jamboree’s financial impacts on the city, summarized in a staff report to the council. It described how the festival requires increased patrol staffing and overtime, which is estimated at $12,400. The report stated the Jamboree would be billed “approximately $7,700” for those costs, leaving $4,700 to be swallowed by the department.

She asked why that cost wasn’t addressed in the city’s budget hearings in May.

Jurney said following the meeting that she also had questions about the request to park equipment on city property, asking whether the city’s insurance covered that.

Councilor Dave Trask and Mayor Greg Mahler, both longtime volunteers for the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District, voiced concerns to Shamek about access to the festival grounds by fire trucks, stating that semi trailers parked along the red-curbed fire lane next to the high school athletic fields make it difficult to get equipment onto the grounds in the event of a fire.

“If we had, heaven forbid, a fire on the south side of school, there’s no way we could get a fire truck in there,” he said. “It’s the same thing with sporting events, where people park along there. If we can’t get our truck and engine in there to fight fire, that’s one of my biggest concerns.”

He also said he was concerned that the fire district does not get reimbursed, as the Police Department does, for time spent on the grounds by its personnel, who respond to “up to 20” calls a day.

Shamek responded that the fire department got an engine onto the grounds last year when a fire broke out in the Rotary Club’s booth, but he added that safety “is a huge concern” and said he’d look into keeping the area in question clear.

“I will have another conversation with the chief,” he said, adding that he was “unaware” of the problem.

Councilor James Goble expressed concerns about the amount of work he said he’d seen city employees doing prior to the Jamboree, “pressure washing sidewalks” and cleaning streets.

Public Works Director Greg Springman responded that those activities were part of normal city operations, but Goble added later that he’d like to see more “volunteer efforts in cleaning up sidewalks.”

Shamek told the council that the Jamboree’s economic contribution to the city is “phenomenal,” though he acknowledged it creates challenges.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said. “I love the city of Sweet Home. This is one of those weekends where such a big crowd is coming into town, it’s like the Capital Christmas Tree. It’s awesome for our community.”

Audience member Scott Gagner of Sweet Home Sanitation told the council the festival “is a tough thing for all of us, it’s a burden on the city, no question.

“But it’s the biggest thing we have. It’s hard on Sweet Home Sanitation as well, but we love it, because we know what it does for the city.”

Various council members also said they appreciated what the festival does for Sweet Home.

“I think you do an awesome job,” Mahler said. “All the volunteers do an awesome job. It’s a huge benefit to the community. All in all, it’s very smooth. It’s a benefit to us.”

Councilors voted 5-2, with Susan Coleman, James Goble, Lisa Gourley, Mahler and Trask in support, and with Briana and Gerson opposing the request.