Wow ... just wow! What a year so far (and I know that’s an understatement). Everything starts off chugging along nicely, then comes an epidemic developing on the other side of the world. Before we know it, we have a global pandemic. As we see people getting sick and dying in other parts of the country, things begin shutting down on a level we could never have imagined. Everyone from the federal government to local restaurants scramble to react and figure out how to navigate these uncharted waters.
Locally, I can tell you I’ve made my best efforts to do what I believe is in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of our residents and our businesses. I won’t pretend that I have all the answers or that I haven’t made mistakes along the way. I have tried very hard to stay informed and weigh all the data before making decisions. I know some have disagreed with steps I’ve taken as being overprotective, while others have told me I haven’t done enough. That’s OK. It’s the nature of this job. I am extremely fortunate, however, to be in a city like Independence where, even when people disagree, we can have a reasonable, polite conversation.
With that said, I’m going to ask for your understanding on our Independence Day Celebration. You’ll see details inside, but I’ll give you the bottom line of my thinking. My foremost concern is the safety of our residents. I also understand that this is Independence and Independence is something we cherish and celebrate. Finally, I know my fellow Independents, and I know I can count on them to do the right thing and act responsibly. I’ve held off making final decisions as long as possible to gather and evaluate the best information, rather than preemptively canceling everything. With all of this in mind, we are going to move forward with our parade (at an earlier time) and extend the route to better allow for social distancing. We are also going to move forward with our fireworks on Saturday night. Unfortunately, we are going to cancel our festival in Memorial Park.
On a typical year we will have 15,000 to 20,000 people in the park, with several thousand more in the area at fireworks time. Given all the other canceled events, as well as the fact that the holiday falls on Saturday this year, I would expect those numbers to increase significantly. I don’t see any way we can safely have the festival. Instead, we are suggesting that you spend the holiday with family and maybe a few friends and neighbors. To help accommodate that we are moving the parade to 11 am so you can still get out and enjoy it before firing up the grill and starting the cornhole games. Maybe even stop by one of our local restaurants and grab a meal before or after the parade. We’ve also asked Vito’s Fireworks to put together a special show which eliminates the low-level, specialty items that were only visible from the Memorial Park area. Instead, they will focus only on “high burst” shells that can be seen from much further away, so many more will be able to view from home. If you are pretty certain you won’t be able to see them, however, Memorial Park and the Towne Center area will be open to limited capacity. Please don’t come up if you can view from home. If you do, please watch from your car or appropriately social distance if in the park. Again, there won’t be any low-level pyrotechnics this year, so you’re not missing anything close up.
Lastly, I want to thank our sponsors. As you may or may not know, our $30,000+, top ten in the state Fourth of July fireworks show has always been fully funded by local businesses. Despite the fact that they won’t receive the exposure they would normally get at our two-day festival, and despite the economic impact on many of their businesses, several have agreed to still be a part of the show. Please support these businesses who support all of us. Most of all, thanks to our title sponsor One Holland’s Independence LaRosa’s, Skyline Chili and Dunkin, who cover about 40% of that cost. When I called Gary Holland to let him know what I was thinking and ask if he was still willing to participate, he didn’t even let me finish. Mr. Holland just said, “Tell me what you need me to do … we’re in no matter what … this is Independence. We have to do something.” That was a very happy moment when I knew the show would indeed go on.
I’m going to close this column similar to the last one in which I told you I was looking forward to “hanging out” with my fellow Independents. This time, however, I’ll say I look forward to coexisting with my fellow Independents. It’s been a strange year and it isn’t over. Even though we haven’t been together physically, we’ve all banded together in so many ways like helping each other, coming out to provide amazing support to our local businesses and just taking precautions to ensure our neighbors stay healthy. You’ll find this issue filled with some of those stories. While I have never doubted the character of our residents, seeing us put to the test during these extraordinary circumstances has been an inspiration. Please hold on to that during these turbulent times. Please know how much I admire you and consider it one of the great privileges of my life to serve as your mayor.