Council Approves Rain Date For Jazz And Blues Event

Council Approves Rain Date For Jazz And Blues Event
Ryan Nellans, executive director of the chamber, speaks to Berlin officials Monday. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN– Town officials approved a request from the Berlin Chamber of Commerce to set a rain date for the town’s annual jazz and blues event.

The chamber on Monday asked the Berlin Town Council to consider rain dates for the annual spring celebration as well as the jazz and blues event. Officials agreed to approve one rain date as a compromise.

“One date we may be able to work with,” Councilman Dean Burrell said.

Ryan Nellans, executive director of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, approached the council this week to ask for rain dates for the spring celebration, set for April 8, and the jazz and blues event, set for May 6. Nellans said Reggae Play Day had been eliminated from the calendar so the request for two rain dates—April 16 and May 13—really only resulted in one additional event date for the town. He acknowledged that planning for rain dates would impact town staff who worked event days but said that was why the chamber had recently donated $5,000 to the town to help with events.

Councilman Jack Orris asked exactly what the two new dates would mean for staff.

“It would mean that staff has to commit themselves personally to an additional day,” Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said. “Yes they are compensated for overtime but there is more to it than just the compensation.”

Mayor Zack Tyndall asked how many weekends events occurred. Staff said there were 16 weekends that featured events.

“This request is not one I make lightly,” Nellans said. “The reason I do make this request is because of the investment we put into these events. The only two rain dates that I mean to ask for are for these two days in the spring.”

Bohlen said she understood he was only requesting two rain dates but said one request often led to another.

“We understand the investment,” Tyndall said. “We like the events just as much as everyone else does. We just have to balance that with staff time.”

He asked if the events could be adjusted in case of rain.

Nellans said the spring celebration could likely be moved to the Berlin Fire Company if the organization approved but said no alternative was possible for the jazz and blues event which is significantly larger.

Councilman Dean Burrell echoed Bohlen’s concern that one request could lead to future rain date requests.

“That’s not my intent,” Nellans said.

Cindi Krempel, a member of the chamber’s board, said she appreciated the fact that town officials were looking out for municipal employees but pointed out they’d likely been hired with the expectation of working some weekends.

“Maybe they would appreciate the overtime,” she said.

She added that downtown merchants depended on the crowds events brought in and that business was impacted significantly if those events were canceled. She said she felt adding one additional date to the calendar was reasonable.

“It may be reasonable from where you sit, and yes folks are hired with certain expectations, but these are not your employees, these are employees of the Town of Berlin,” Burrell said. “They are providing you a service, let’s say a complimentary service, by being down here, cleaning the streets after your events, sweeping and doing whatever needs to be done to put the town back in order—not because we require it. It is because they have that much interest in keeping the town presentable and safe.”

Tyndall said 16 weekends was a lot for staff to be expected to work and said that was especially true when those weekends included holidays. He added that the town currently had vacancies—three police and four laborers—in the positions that would be working those 16 weekends.

“It puts the recruitment and retention stuff in perspective I think,” he said.

Nellans said he was cognizant of the demand on staff which was why the chamber had provided the town the donation.

“What we’re also trying to do, not just for the employees but the town, through providing these events with you, we help draw people into town,” he said. “We help draw business into town. We help improve and grow businesses.”

He said some people had started as vendors at events in town and now had their own shops in Berlin.

“We’re helping grow these businesses, draw people into town, draw revenue into town, increase property values, so that the tax income can go up. What we’re doing isn’t just grabbing a few dollars here and there. What we’re helping to do is nurture the entire system.”

Tyndall suggested Heron Park as an alternative location for the jazz and blues event.

“That way it limits the amount of staff that would have to be there,” he said.

Councilman Steve Green said that would likely be too complicated but that he hoped the council could reach a compromise with the chamber. Burrell made a motion to approve May 13 as a rain date for jazz and blues but said he didn’t want to field additional rain date requests.

“Don’t come back,” Burrell said.

Green said the conversation had been unnecessarily harsh.

“I really don’t think it needed to go there,” he said.

Burrell disagreed.

“That is an individual interpretation,” he said. “I would like to say I believe the discussion has been more candid.”

The motion to approve the rain date passed unanimously.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.