Rally dispute shows need for clear plan

Published 10:05 am Friday, July 22, 2011

Who would have thought that an event designed to bring thousands of visitors into Ironton would spark a heated controversy that will likely leave parties on both sides feeling as if they lost?

But that is essentially what has occurred over the vendors’ fee dispute and an ongoing debate over which local business or group can use city property for a make-shift campground during an upcoming festival.

The whole controversy arose when the Friends of Ironton, a grassroots civic organization asked the city council to adopt legislation to restrict unauthorized vendors from setting up shop during events like Rally on the River.

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The issue itself has many layers and is not black and white.

Although it can be argued that the Rally does little to help Ironton’s economy, the reality is that at least a small segment of businesses will benefit and this is better than nothing. And the Friends organization — because of the things it does to give back the money it raises through projects that include building the sprayground and renovating the Ro-Na Theater — deserves to have some protection from competitive vendors.

Now that the proposed law has been modified significantly from earlier discussions — to lower exorbitant vendor fees and to exclude existing businesses — it makes sense to have it in place for all special events within the city limits.

It isn’t perfect, but it does not have to be. Council should adopt it now to address the issue this year but also must work to review the legislation and modify it as needed after data is gathered after this year’s event.

When it comes to who gets to lease city property for a campground, the mayor’s proposal that it should be bid out each year is the only fair and logical way to proceed going forward.

Council should take the necessary steps to get these changes in place, with the understanding that this is a work in progress and can be modified as needed. But the Friends group also has a responsibility to determine the impact — both positive and negative — this event has on the city and its businesses.

Although the organization is far from perfect and needs to improve its public image and public relations efforts, the Friends of Ironton has its collective heart in the right place and wants to live up to its name.