OpEd: Wilton Manors Commissioners: Making The Right Decision The Wrong Way

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All is well that ends well. Perhaps.

Finally, after years of allowing private for profit and non-profit groups to run the Stonewall Festival in June, with checkered and unsuccessful results, the city has sucked it up and decided to manage the event itself.

Declaring it to be a “signature event” worth embracing, the city commissioners have appointed a committee to create an ‘entertainment group’ to engineer the festival with a twilight parade on Friday, June 19, and street closures and a Stonewall Festival on Saturday, June 20.

The city has a non-profit association, the Island City Foundation, which has been asked to organize and operate the festival and parade. They have met already and city commissioners have ratified the appointment of a chair, advisory committee, and entertainment group.

Those are facts. The rest is opinion.

For undertaking to do what they should have been doing for a decade, the city commissioners and the city manager deserve a very tame and reluctant round of applause. This festival is an event of such magnitude the city should have realized this and financed it long ago. However, that requires foresight and planning. Most politicians are good at proclamations and promises but not much else.

It is therefore no surprise that the city of Wilton Manors was content at letting private organizations run Stonewall each year. Last year, the event was run pretty well by Pride South Florida but as with four other operators in preceding years, it was unprofitable.

Consequently, prudent financial management dictated scaling down the event to a smaller parade that was cost effective. The city however wanted a festival — not just a parade.

Thus, under the umbrella of its own foundation, it has now taken on the responsibility for the festival. For that, they earn tame applause.

The greater truth is that the city and its volunteers could have worked better with Pride South Florida, either to work out collaboration on the parade or as to the dates itself. This they chose not to do. So when the city announced its plans to hold its event on June 19 and June 20, they did so with the full knowledge and awareness that Pride South Florida was conducting a festival in Holiday Park on June 13 and a potential parade in the Manors on June 14. How reckless was that?

Make no mistake about it. The City of Wilton Manors irresponsibly lit a fuse which could have ignited a festival war between two competing organizations, to see who would get most rained upon in the middle of June anyway.

What the city could have and should have done is invite PSF to present an alternative proposal or at least schedule a meeting to promote collaboration, not conflict. Instead of an attempt at consensus building, the city just threw down the gauntlet, said ‘damn the torpedoes’ and full speed ahead.

As the new chair of Pride South Florida, I am happy to say our organization immediately took the high road. Rather than conduct competing festivals, we unanimously voted last week to move our own. Yes it could be seen as embarrassing to change the dates yet again, but the new dates are phenomenal.

The weekend of Fort Lauderdale Pride starts October 9. October 11 is not only National Coming Out Day; it is also the weekend of the Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The weather is better, and Fort Lauderdale Pride will put heads in beds for the city at a slow time for tourism. Look for a parade on the beach and a beach blanket movie night in Holiday Park.

The City of Wilton Manors is one of the strongest same sex communities in America. This is what the residents of Wilton Manors should have demanded long ago — a pride event run by the city, not by private groups. Now that the city of Wilton Manors has undertaken the initiative, albeit belatedly and negligently, let’s make sure they handle it better than they do their parking problems. Let everyone be accountable, and let’s all work together to make the Stonewall Festival one of recurring pride.


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