DAPHNE – The July 4 celebration will take place at Trione Park on Saturday, but the vote on the display led to some verbal fireworks at the Daphne City Council meeting Monday.
Mayor Dane Haygood told council members that city officials planned to carry on the display with allowances being made for social distancing. Councilman Pat Rudicell made a motion to cancel the event out of concerns for the health and safety of residents and city employees during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I’m as patriotic as anybody in this room,” Rudicell said. “I’m just leery of using a city piece of property in and inviting citizens with all these things that are going on around us and restrictions that are currently on private businesses that they’re not allowed to do certain things and for us to use city property, a question of patriotism I don’t think should enter into it. It’s just when you’re dealing with people’s lives, when you’re dealing with people’s well-being, including the staff, you’re exposing people.”
Haygood said that in a a poll of residents, 65 percent wanted the event to continue, while 35 percent favored calling it off.
“I think there’s always concerns and there are legitimate concerns out here but there are a number of people who have the option to stay home or not attend or come view it in the manner that y’all prescribe,” Haygood said. “These are all valid approaches, but if we take away the opportunity from all, I don’t know that that’s what we’ve based our decisions on in the city of Daphne. I don’t know if it’s quite frankly, the American way.”
Rudicell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, responded to the mayor’s comment.
“Watch your words, OK? I’m the one who’s been in a combat zone,” Rudicell said. “You never have. I know about the American way as much as anybody in this room does. I’m concerned about people’s lives. I’ve been concerned about people’s lives the whole time I was in the military and the whole time I’m on the City Council. So watch your words about saying, just because you don’t show up for this thing, because it’s a political issue anyway, because we’ve got a mayor’s campaign going on this year. Hey, let’s have this. OK? Let’s do this. Let’s do that. These are people’s lives. You’re sending employees out for an optional event. This is not a law enforcement response to a terrorist attack. This is optional.”
Rudicell’s motion to cancel the event failed by a 2-4 vote. Councilwoman Tommie Conaway said she worried that with Fairhope and Mobile calling off fireworks, people who have watched those events will create an overflow crowd in Daphne.
“I’ve spoken to several people in the city of Daphne,” Conaway said. “They’re concerned about the number of COVID-19 cases rising and Alabama being a hot spot and cities surrounding Daphne canceling Fourth of July celebrations and they feel that those people will be coming over to Daphne when we open our doors to those people coming over here and we will not be able to control social distancing.”
The event will be different from previous fireworks displays.
Angie Baggett, director of special events, said the viewing area will be divided into 11 zones. Each zone will have 33 circles painted on the ground 15 to 20 feet apart. Circles will be 8, 12 and 16 feet in diameter to accommodate different sized groups.
An 8-foot circle will accommodate four to six people.
Haygood said that if all circles are filled to capacity, the event could accommodate 2,700 people. In the past, about 500 people have come to the Daphne fireworks.
“We do think we have a plan that really works,” Haygood said. “It’s enforceable and we can clearly articulate the expectations to the public.”
Fireworks displays will take place this weekend in Robertsdale and Elberta on Saturday.
Cities that have canceled fireworks include Fairhope, Gulf Shores, Mobile and Dauphin Island.