Mayor Simmons cast a cautious tie-breaking vote
By Jordan McBride
The annual July 4 fireworks display at the Vienna City Park has been a topic on the city council agenda ever since the body began convening again in May, after skipping a few sessions at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last Wednesday, the council voted not to hold the celebration, with Mayor John Simmons breaking the tie between the present council members.
Normally the city mayor does not vote, but only four of the six city council members were present last week, and the vote resulted in a 2-2 tie. Alderman Tuey, a vocal supporter of the fireworks display, was an unexpected absence and the seat previously occupied by Debbie Riddle is still vacant pending her April departure from the council. That left Aldermen Penrod and Hill the lone votes in favor of holding the event despite the restrictions. Aldermen Owen and Racey argued that the governors guidelines created too much of a barrier to a successful event. Additionally, their concerns about the enforcement of social distancing at the event also motivated their decision to postpone the celebration until next year.
Police Chief Jim Miller had established at earlier meetings that he would not have adequate police support to enforce the suggestion of keeping all observers in or near their vehicles, and the projected attendance of the event would almost certainly have broken the 50-person limit on gatherings put in place by the fourth phase of the governor’s Re-Open Illinois plan. While some council members, especially Hill, argued that the limits were being ignored at other events and all the city could do would be to post suggestions and guidelines, it was not enough to sway the entire council.
“Children won’t be able to play, you’ll have to stay in your car… I’m sorry but I think $7,000 is too much to spend if we can’t do it the way we want to,” Mayor Simmons said, “I’m sorry, but this just isn’t the year”. Simmons also listed the inability to have vendors at the event, as well as the lost city tax dollars from inactive amusement machines and other revenue streams as additional reasons for the decision.
The council had recently increased the budget for the display from $6,500 to $7,000 in an attempt to draw a bigger crowd for a better show. The council unanimously voted to increase the show’s budget last month, and also decided to hold the event on Saturday, July 4th. Plans were in place for the largest show Vienna had ever hosted, but the governor’s COVID-19 mandates were always a concern.
When the city voted to reserve the date for the show in May, Fire Chief Brent Williams assured the council that the deposit for the show would not be lost if the event was canceled. The company the city contracts with for the fireworks will simply put that money toward next year’s show.
Many other towns in Southern Illinois have canceled their fireworks displays, but at publication time the fireworks at Goreville, on July 4th and Lake of Egypt, on July 3rd, were set to continue as planned.