I wrote last month that those who do not pay for the Maplewood fireworks but sit and watch them anyway were akin to thieves. This brought a great mixed reaction, some agreeing with me while others claiming such a viewpoint was unfair to those who cannot afford it.
Then there were some who called it racist since many of those who do not or cannot pay are people of color. One person even accused the Township of purposely keeping certain groups out of the fenced-in paid areas. Ridiculous.
I pointed out that the $16,000 cost of the sky show, and the overall $32,000 price tag for the entire day of events and attractions, was not covered by township funds or any other entities. I did note that sponsorships were on the increase, but that much of the cost was still paid with ticket sales.
Still, the entire debate raised an important issue: the feeling that fencing off fireworks and making people pay to see them in a public park was uncomfortable at best and unfair at worst.
And it looks like changes are coming, perhaps as soon as Tuesday, July 18.
Several Township Committee (TC) members said they were looking at ways that might allow a free display with funding from increased sponsorships and even some Township funds.
“We'll be discussing this at the next TC meeting Tuesday,” Deputy Maplewood Mayor Nancy Adams said via email. “I expressed my concerns about fencing off the whole park last year, but was willing to give it another year. I'm sure I'm not alone on the TC in wanting the fireworks, or at least the whole park, to be open to all and the need to find another way to fund besides charging.”
Tuesday’s meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Maplewood Police and Courts building on Springfield Avenue.
TC member Greg Lembrich also chimed in on Facebook shortly after my initial column ran, stating, in part: “I am increasingly uncomfortable with the traditional arrangement. The celebration is in a public park and uses significant taxpayer resources, but is not accessible to all residents. I do not blame the MCA [Maplewood Civic Association] or 4th of July Committee for this at all; they do what they have to do to run the event, and they do an outstanding job. As I've said before though, because ‘it has always been this way’ is an unacceptable reason to perpetuate inequality. I think the community has reached a tipping point where exclusion from the full benefits of citizenship in SOMA based on inability to pay will no longer be tolerated.”
Township Committeeman Frank McGehee added via email, “There will be a post mortem meeting/conversation regarding the event and many topics including admission will be raised and ideas will be shared regarding exploring alternative options.”
Asked for his view, Maplewood Mayor Vic De Luca emailed only, “I am not in favor of using Township funds to pay for the fireworks show.” TC Member India Larrier has yet to respond to a request for comment.
Democratic TC candidate Dean Dafis said a change is needed, stating via email, “I think the event needs to be free. People already pay enough for their food and kids' activities. And, some folks also paid for the run/walk earlier in the morning. The circus needs to go. The entire event needs to be revamped including creating a strong finance/fundraising committee towards getting sponsors to cover the event. If we're taking about $16k, that's not a lot of money to raise in a town such as ours.”
Republican TC Candidate Mike Summersgill, who is on the July 4th Committee, has yet to offer a view after being asked via email.
Perhaps a mix of funding, part donations, part Township subsidy and more efforts for sponsorship is the way to go. But as long as the cost is covered in a way that is fair, let the fences come down and the fireworks continue to go up.