blairsville welcome sign

BLAIRSVILLE — In a bid to head off eleventh-hour surprises for police and other town officials, Blairsville Borough council wants to require advance notice of large events from the people who plan them.

The borough council Tuesday agreed to advertise for adoption next month an ordinance that requires organizers to register an event through the borough office and gain official approval to go forward. The new mandate was inspired in part by an impromptu memorial program two weeks ago in a park on the eastern edge of Blairsville.

The ordinance isn’t meant as a moneymaker, because a $100 deposit would be refunded if all goes well.

Instead it’s intended as a planning aid, to give the police department and other town leaders a formal advance notice of how to marshal their resources for large gatherings, according to officials.

Most formally organized events like the Knotweed Festival usually get on the borough’s radar. But it’s not always the case for gatherings like the vigil held Sept. 5 near the veterans’ park in memory of Nalani Johnson, the Penn Hills toddler who was kidnapped Aug. 31 and discovered dead Sept. 3 near Pine Ridge Park in Burrell Township.

The vigil was organized by area residents who mourned the child’s death, word of it spread through social media and it received promotion in mainstream media. It drew a crowd estimated to be in the thousands, in various media accounts.

Video footage of the event broadcast on a Pittsburgh television station showed police breaking up a scuffle among some vigil participants.

“I think you did a fantastic job down here the night of that thing for the little girl,” Councilman Paul Fodor told Police Chief Michael Allman. “I know it was last minute and hopefully, coming down the road here, we won’t have that problem again.”

“It was a good thing we had extra help out there,” Allman said.

“Absolutely, because it could have gotten real ugly. But you did a great job. And also our fire chief, Turk (George Burkley), with the lighting,” Fodor added.

Knowing beforehand, through a process requiring approvals of the police chief, fire chief, borough manager and borough council to issue a permit, would assure better preparation, Borough Manager Tim Evans said.

“It’s not that we’re discouraging any special events, we just want to know when they’re having them, more than two hours before they happen so we can plan for them,” Evans said. “A case in point would be that today we found out there’s supposed to be a parade Friday.” He was referring to Blairsville High School homecoming.

“This would require everyone in town who wants to have an event to have it approved. … Mike (Allman) schedules his officers a month in advance. He needs to know what’s going on so he can have more officers on duty to handle these events and handle them safely.”

Permits would be required for events involving 50 or more people, those planned on borough facilities or that would affect traffic flow, Evans said. The application requires a site plan and expected needs for first aid stations, traffic cones, barricades, restrooms, signs, security and insurance.

The application would assure that event planners gain other required permissions, such as for alcoholic beverage sales or food service.

“It eliminates us from running around and trying to pull things together within hours, which is what has happened with the last two events,” Evans said.

“Like Paul said, that memorial service could have been — We’re not trying to stop them, we just want to know what’s going on. That thing happened through Facebook and bam, there it was, and we’re trying to pull things together. That’s one of the things this says, if you want an event in town, you have to have insurance and we have to have notice ahead of time.”

The details of the ordinance, a 15-page document, will be publicized for public review and comment for the next few weeks. Council could vote to enact it Oct. 15.

Council also authorized Evans to apply for a grant from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation multimodal funds for a $100,000 borough-wide sidewalk repair program. Evans said the borough would offer $30,000 of liquid fuels funds as a match for $70,000 from PennDOT.

“The WalkWorks folks have already gone through town to prioritize the sidewalks, to group the good, bad and ugly sidewalks in town,” Evans said.

“Some of us have to pay for our sidewalks by ourselves. And now you’re going to have some people get them for free?” Councilman James Mollo asked. “Could we charge, maybe half? You get the grant and they pay half, we pay half. That way you help them out if they’re hurting, having trouble with money.”

Meyer said it was unclear whether the provisions of the grant program would permit the borough to assess property owners a share of the cost.

“I think you should do it that way. They should pay a little bit,” Mollo said.

The suggestion was left to be investigated. The grant application deadline is Nov. 9.

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.