The South Florida Gay News is distributed to over 375 distribution points in three different counties, but Wilton Manors is our hometown, so coverage here deserves significant attention. It’s home plate.
Additionally, the city of Wilton Manors has one of the largest percentages of LGBT populations in the United States, a statistic documented a decade ago by the 2000 census. You can only expect an exponential result in that number when the 2010 reporting becomes public.
That being said, it is no surprise many of the candidates for office this week were gay men and women or LGBT supportive. However, whom you sleep with is not an indicator of how well you govern.
This past week in Wilton Manors we witnessed a complete abdication of civic responsibility by city officials. So busy with running for re-election, they abandoned their duty to protect the public safety and welfare. We can’t name names, because we are not sure who did what, but cumulatively we know they all did nothing.
We are certain that between the city commission, the police department, the city manager, the activists in a citizens’ group that sought to take charge, and the state officials who have dominion over Wilton Drive, something should have been done to make it safer last Saturday. Make no mistake about it, you all failed miserably.
Very simply, everyone knew thousands of citizens were coming to Wilton Drive for a Halloween Party on Saturday night, October 30. Last year, the streets were overwhelmed with thousands of pedestrians, families with children in strollers, gay men and women, in costumes, so many partying and drinking. We knew that was coming again this year. Last year, though, wisely, the streets were closed to vehicular traffic. This year, not so.
Throughout the night, pedestrians aimlessly and mindlessly drifted into traffic, as club owners tried desperately to police their venues. The police, with a limited presence, were stopping by club after club to keep patrons on public sidewalks and not in motored thoroughfares. It was a recipe for disaster, an accident waiting to happen, and a situation that could have so easily been avoided. How could this be?
The community has rightfully demanded an answer to why the streets were not closed when it was so evident so many would be there. Let us give you the answer. The city chose to be cheap. They decided to save a buck instead of save a life. They elected not to pay for the barricades or the extra police details, which would be necessarily an expense of the operation. They put your life and your partner’s life and your friend’s life at risk. They chose expedience over excellence. They disgraced you. We have published in our online edition a letter from Wilton Manors Main Street, applauding the selfless and noble work of the many volunteers who made the weekend’s events successful. Of course, they deserve credit, as so many contributed so much. But it seems safety alone should have been a priority, and our citizens should not have settled for less. That we may have escaped injury today does not mean we won’t be creating a false sense of security for a similar event tomorrow. And every cop working that drive knows how right I am.
Don’t let them tell you about how they needed permission, or it was a state road. Don’t let them tell you about how when Stonewall Pride went broke in June, the details were not paid their fees back then. Don’t let them tell you anything. It will all be a lie. The truth is simple: public safety was ignored. The transparent and obvious need to close the street was not accomplished. Clearly, it should have been.
Most of the time, the best any city commission or city manager can do for you or your business is stay out of your hair. That government which governs best governs least. But when it comes to public safety, no expense is too costly, unless if you live in Wilton Manors and you are fighting over who should pay for what.
The entire expense of posting barricades and adding details would have been less than $20,000, funds the City could have found. They are also demonstratively less than it would have cost the city to defend a lawsuit had a club patron or pedestrian been injured by an impaired driver or inadvertent accident.
The major point to be made is that while only the Florida Department of Transportation can close the state road known as Wilton Drive, everyone in authority knew or should have known that it should have been closed last Saturday night. That we failed to act accordingly means that we failed to act responsibly. Let’s own up to it.
It is clear what happened last Saturday was no accident. Given the choice to act responsibly, we were delivered a case of paralysis. The city acted recklessly, and there is no defense for putting the public at risk. It was a Halloween nightmare, and we elect them again and again.