By DAVID GREEN
Morenci Town and Country Festival committee members expect this year’s event to suffer without the draw of a softball tournament, and they know the loss will trickle down into the community.
“There will be an impact on businesses,” festival director Sue Snyder told council members Monday, “but my greatest concern is for the festival.”
After city council members voted 5-2 last month against issuing an alcohol permit for the tournament, the city’s softball director, Bob Ford, moved the festival tournament to Fayette.
The permit allows the consumption of alcohol in a specified area beyond the outfield fence.
The annual tournament brings not only team members to the festival, but also family and friends who spend time and money throughout the weekend.
“It brings people to the community who wouldn’t ordinarily come,” said committee member Michelle Bovee.
Snyder said a decrease in the sale of concessions will hurt the festival finances and vendors who experience of loss of income might not return to Morenci the next year.
“I don’t think it was necessary to pull the tournament,” said council member Tracy Schell. “I wish he would have tried it without alcohol.”
Mayor Doug Erskin said he would like to talk to Ford about his decision, but hasn’t been able to contact him. Ford’s job is to bring softball to Morenci, he said.
Ford is paid $1,250 a year to organize softball leagues and direct tournaments. The self-funded program is paid by the registration fees that teams pay to compete.
Councilor Keith Pennington pointed out that the city didn’t vote against softball. It was Ford’s decision to move the tournament.
Snyder said she doesn’t detect a lot of support for the festival from city council and she thinks a council member should attend festival committee meetings.
Snyder spoke of the frustration of planning for this year’s event over several months, only to have this happen just a few weeks before the festival begins.
“I just don’t understand why you had to change things that were working,” she said.
From her understanding, there have been no problems during the years that the alcohol permit system was used.
“It’s OK to have your personal views,” Snyder said, “but I don’t think it’s right to impose them on the whole city.”
Erskin said he made his decision based on the testimony presented at the council meeting and no opposing viewpoints were presented.
Pennington said the committee should look at the benefit of the festival to the community without promoting the use of alcohol in a public area. He believes it’s in the long-term interest of the community to avoid promoting alcohol as essential for softball games.
Erskin also mentioned the opposition to the alcohol permit by the city’s new insurance carrier.
“Our insurance carrier has strongly recommended that we don’t do this,” he said.
Nothing has happened in the past, but he would rather err on the side of caution.
Snyder pointed out that an insurance rider could be purchased to cover the tournament.
“You have our word that we’ll continue to try contacting Bob Ford and see if he’ll bring some games here,” Schell said.
Looking into the future, committee member Kori Christle said she hopes to see the tournament issue resolved for a success festival next year.