Volume 15, Number 36
Tuesday night the Wake Forest commissioners voted three to one to shoulder the responsibility of producing the annual Fourth of July fireworks show. Since 1973 volunteers have organized the town’s two-day celebration that includes the fireworks preceded by a program with music plus, on the following day, a children’s parade that has grown to hundreds of participants and then several hours of games and arts and crafts in Holding Park.
Rob Mitchell, the chairman of the small Fourth of July Committee, formally asked the commissioners to take over the fireworks show. He said the committee members, many of whom have worked on the Fourth for over 20 years, are divided on the question, voting eight to two for the town to take over.
Two of the commissioners, Greg Harrington and Brian Pate, are committee members and disagreed about the town’s takeover.
Harrington, who has volunteered for the Fourth since he retired as town police chief seven years ago, urged the other board members to wait on a vote. “Step back and give it a couple of months, see if there are volunteers who will take it over. I think we could conjure up twenty volunteers to take over the fireworks.” He also said he did not think the fireworks “will be as exciting as it is now. I don’t think the enthusiasm is going to be there” with town employees doing the work.
“I am in disagreement,” Pate said. He has been on the committee for 18 or 19 years; he could not recall the exact figure. “Every year we see one or two new people come on board and we usually don’t see them the next year. We beg and plead and still have trouble getting people to do it.”
The problem, Pate said, is that it is hard work on the two days of the event and the current committee members are getting older, some having served 24 years or more. (Bonnie Johnson has been Miss Liberty since either 1973 or 1974.) For the event, he said, the volunteers work a 12- or 13-hour day for the fireworks, get six hours or so of sleep and then “go back at it again” for the parade and the activities at the park.
Pate also said the commissioners should vote now because “It’s going to be a twelve-month project to do it the first time. Stadium Drive will be under construction and someone has to be talking with the county school system.”
And, Pate said, “The event could become free. Year after year after the event I have people asking why they have to pay when their tax money is going to it.” The town has contributed a small amount to the independent Fourth committee for years and currently gives the committee $11,240 to cover the cost of security. The bulk of the committee’s operating budget comes from the proceeds of the past year’s stadium/fireworks event plus money from sponsors and donors.
Harrington said, “I think in a town of 40,000 people we can find twenty or twenty-five volunteers. If the town people take over, it will get tired and die from that.”
Commissioner Anne Reeve agreed that the town has “a tremendous network of volunteers,” but the Fourth committee has not been able to get those twenty volunteers.
“The people who are currently on it are tired of doing it,” Reeve said. “I cannot foresee that the town will allow it to become a dog. We do not shirk our responsibilities. The police department has wanted us to do it for a long time.” Harrington inserted, “Not until the last seven years.”
Mayor Vivian Jones said, “I agree with Brian if the town is going to take it over we need to do it now. We need to have more time to work on it.”
The motion was for the town to take over the fireworks and the committee to keep the parade and events in the park. The vote was three to one because Commissioner Jim Thompson was absent.
Rhonda Alderman, who has been a committee member since 1988 and was chairman for many of those years, sent a long email to the commissioners before the vote that urged them not to vote on the matter until after a full discussion. She also questioned the matter coming before the committee at the end of their end of the year cookout when there were only 13 people present. She could not be at the town board meeting Tuesday because she was in Boone, registering her daughter at Appalachian State.