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Festival of Lights Parade committee members said they never anticipated the backlash that would ensue when they canceled the 23rd annual event.
After talking with the National Weather Service and with the anticipated temperatures dropping for the start time of the parade, the committee announced the parade’s cancellation at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 6, the day before the event.
Shortly after the announcement, with more than 6 inches of snow having already fallen locally, a steady flurry of criticism began.
Committee members received obscene, vulgar and sometimes threatening phone calls and messages via social media and email, said Joyce Lucke of Paragon Meeting & Events, the parade committee chairwoman.
“It wasn’t just, ‘We’re disappointed and this is a real loss,’” Lucke said. “Some of them were personal attacks, and most were hollow threats.”
The committee expected a certain amount of pushback and disappointment, but Lucke said the reaction from some community members went above and beyond that.
How to help
If you are interested in serving on the Festival of Lights Committee next year, contact Joyce Lucke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We knew there would be Onions in The Republic,” Lucke said. “But we were rather surprised by the hostile and persistent reaction from the public.”
Those anonymous “Onions to ...” published in the Republic on Dec. 10 and 11 included:
Among the biggest complaints was that entry fees would not be refunded, which surprised Lucke.
The parade committee has had a long-standing policy of no refunds on entry fees, Lucke said. Nonprofit organizations pay a $20 fee, while business entry fees are $40. That money goes toward annual operating costs, which average about $5,000 per year.
In response to the criticism, the committee has offered a discounted rate of 50 percent off entry fees for those who wish to return next year.
Several factors influenced the committee’s decision to cancel the parade, but safety of all who were involved was of the utmost concern, Lucke said.
First and foremost among concerns was the weather. Temperatures for the evening of the parade were forecast to dip well below 20 degrees.
The seven-member parade committee has an inclement-weather policy in place that mirrors one followed by the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., Lucke said. When temperatures dip below 20 degrees, children are not allowed outdoors for more than 20 to 30 minutes.
“Parade spectators and participants could be outside for up to four or five hours,” Lucke said. “When the school won’t let children out for that period of time, being in the parade or a spectator makes no sense.”
Many of the parade’s participants were traveling to Columbus from surrounding areas, so snow-covered roads and travel advisories also were considered.
Although the parade is not affiliated with the city, Mayor Kristen Brown said the city offers the closure of the streets, provides police escorts and participates in the parade with a few entries. Brown said she’s confident no one is more disappointed about the cancellation than the committee members.
“You have a group of very well-intended volunteers who made the best decision they could with the information they had at the time,” Brown said.
The committee, which is composed entirely of volunteers, is expected to meet this week for what would normally be its post-parade wrap-up meeting. Instead, the fate of the parade’s leadership will be discussed.
“Will the parade go on? Yes,” Lucke said. “There is a lot of commiserating going on. Who will be on the committee next year, I don’t know.”
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