Council discusses Fall Festival vendors

Seth Kinker
Neosho Daily News

During the Jun. 1 city council meeting, the council discussed the Fall Festival and who would be allowed to apply for booths. 

Rachel Holcomb, Development Services Director, was asked by the Events Board, which handles vendors at City events, to talk to council about the application for the Fall Festival for this year.

“Council had directed staff to change the application to make it more craft and food vendors,” said Holcomb. “it left out the retail and direct sales like Tupperware and Cactus Creek usually has a booth down here, things like that. As it currently stands, those types of booths are not allowed.”

But after receiving applications from retail and direct sales types of booths, the Events Board wanted to allow both of those types of booths at the festival.

Councilwoman Julie Humphrey, a participant in many crafts festivals herself, said that the Fall Festival had originated in Big Spring Park with arts, crafts and food and said it dwindled when they got rid of arts and crafts.

“Trying to revitalize it now, I feel like sticking with the arts and crafts and bringing that in, brings people to our community,” said Humphrey.

“I think retail needs to be an option,” said councilman Tyler DeWitt. “We have boutiques around, are we going to limit retail and boutiques can’t set up a booth now?

“At the end of the day, what I think it’s all about is freedom and diversity,” said councilman Charles Collinsworth. “I think this festival can be big enough for politics, religion, food, arts, crafts, retail and sales.”

The majority of the council throughout the conversation seemed to be to open up applications to all types of booths while Humphrey added there needed to be a balance between the types of vendors.

“One of the reasons retail and direct sales were not incorporated in this (years application) were the issues that the city had during the previous Fall Festival,” said City Manager David Kennedy near the beginning of the discussion.

“There was a group that had filed for Fall Festival, a local entity,” said Kennedy. “Known as the Proud Boys which brought in a group from out of town, Black Lives Matter. Had a lot of yelling, confrontation and things like that in the square. Some vendors were trying to get out so they could just leave and weren’t able to because the square had a time for everyone to leave in an orderly fashion.”

“That was the event that took place that transpired the discussion for what council wanted for Fall Festival, what their expectations were, what their expectations were for Celebrate Neosho,” added Kennedy. “That’s when staff went through and started looking at other communities, developed a proposal and contract vendors would sign. Since then, we’ve also developed the Events Board which was a recommendation by council to have a governing authority on applications coming through. They had guidance on what was authorized and not authorized through the contract approved.”

Councilwoman Ashton Robinson asked if the Proud Boys did anything wrong as far as their behavior and Neosho Police Chief Jason Baird told council that from what he was told from the duty sergeant, the Proud Boys kept to themselves and most of the issues came from citizens at the festival confronting the protesters from BLM.

“It was the whole situation that caused an issue,” said Holcomb. “it did make vendors uncomfortable. We had citizens that were uncomfortable. We don’t want anyone to come to our festival and feel uncomfortable.”

Holcomb added that at that time, BLM was offered a booth if they wanted one and they declined.

“(BLM) wanted to yell, scream and holler and make accusations,” said Mayor Bill Doubek.

“To be fair, it was not only the disagreement or whatever on the city streets,” said Mayor Pro Tem Angela Thomas. “There was a lot of feedback from citizens that were not happy the Proud Boys were there. I know there was a lot of the people that said they weren’t going to come to the festival because of that.”

Doubek responded that he could only speak for the group here, in the area, and said the vast majority of the Proud Boys are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and members of the VFW and American Legion.

“The outsiders came in and started problems,” said Doubek. “If those outsiders hadn’t come in and started problems, our community wouldn’t have had a reason to get upset or angry.”

Thomas replied that there were people upset about the Proud Boys booth before the confrontation at the Fall Festival.

“I know not everyone is a Christian, but we have a lot of churches,” said Robinson. “And they can say the same thing about that.”

“The churches and many of the other organizations have not been labeled by the government as hate groups either,” responded Thomas. “So that’s part of the issue. The Proud Boys are labeled as a hate group. Right or wrong, whether you believe that or not. They are labeled as a hate group.”

Kennedy told council that while the police department would be on site, he needed them to understand that people have the right to protest.

“If the Proud Boys come in and start crap, I’m going to tell them it’s wrong. If BLM comes in and starts crap, I’m going to tell them it’s wrong,” said councilman Richard Davidson. “The issue is with the people trying to stir up problems, not with the Festival and were not going to penalize people and limit our freedoms, limit our rights, because one or two groups may cause a problem.”

“I just don’t want this to turn into, ‘oh well councilman so and so supports Proud Boys coming into town,’ that’s not what this is about,” added Davidson.

Davidson would make a motion to remove all restrictions on booth applications, the motion passed with Humphrey and Thomas the two “no” votes.