Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

April 19, 2012

Goshen City Council still considering one First Fridays ordinance

Ambassador program for downtown festival will try to curb concerns about youth

GOSHEN — Richard Aguirre made two observations when the debate over a pair of ordinances involving the First Fridays surfaced about a month ago.

He argued last month that more progress could be made through a community-based strategy and warned that addressing the issue with two ordinances could also take on a racial component.

Aguirre’s slow-down-and-talk approach gained some ground Tuesday when the Goshen City Council once again delayed a vote on a proposal that would prohibit people from blocking sidewalks.

Minutes later, the council voted unanimously to kill a proposed curfew for children 14 and under in the downtown business district on the nights of First Fridays.

Aguirre, a member of the Goshen Community Relations Commission, was joined by numerous others who spoke Tuesday against the proposals and urged council members to look at other strategies to solve the problem created by an over-abundance of middle-school aged kids who some say are clogging sidewalks and causing trouble.

One of those strategies is the use of an ambassadors program, which relies on a couple dozen volunteers talking with festival-goers to help ease potential problems.

The ambassadors, along with an increased police presence, seemed to alleviate some of the concerns associated with youth during the festival on April 6. While council members did not suggest the ambassador program, they voted to wait another month for a vote on the sidewalk ordinance to see if conditions continue to improve at the next festival.

Tuesday’s meeting marked the second time a large number of people attended the council’s meeting to speak against the ordinances.

“It’s always better if more people are involved,” Aguirre said. “I really believe if you get more people aware of problems in our community and involved in finding solutions, it’s all around, better.”

Aguirre said he was surprised at the number of people who spoke against the ordinances last month and again Tuesday night.

“I’m more hopeful,” Aguirre said. “If attempts to involve the community and parents of youth are unsuccessful, I think ordinances like the … sidewalk ordinance should be considered.”

The Goshen College administrator also predicted last month that the proposed ordinances could end up being perceived as being aimed at Latinos.

On Tuesday five youths — all Hispanic — voiced concerns. Some suggested they felt police had been picking on them.

An older white man with a pony tail also spoke Tuesday and called the proposals a “shameful act” and complained repeatedly that it appeared to be aimed at minorities and low-income people.

That was enough to draw a sharp rebuke from Councilman Jeremy Stutsman who reminded that the ordinances don’t specifically mention race or income. The curfew, he told the audience, is based on state law.

Police Chief Wade Branson, who supported both ordinances, expressed disappointment, saying the debate turned into a personal commentary on the treatment of minorities in Goshen.

Regardless of how the council votes in May, Branson said the police department will continue to work to ensure existing ordinances and state laws are enforced and address concerns of residents and visitors.

He said he wants “respectful and peaceful behavior of all participants regardless of age, race, gender or any other category.”

Darin Short, a part-time Goshen Middle School employee who works as an English Language Learning collaborator, said the ordinances are a topic of conversation among many students at the school. He said some of the students who spoke Tuesday were encouraged to become civically engaged for a class project.

Short also spoke Tuesday and said he believes the issue is too complex to be solved with ordinances. He suggested a community conversation is needed.

He said he hopes the students’ input would be respected.

“Time will tell,” Short said. “I hope everybody sees the value of their civic engagement.”

Last month, about three dozen ambassadors participated in First Fridays and Aguirre predicted even more participation next month.

Next month’s First Friday will include an international diversity food court coordinated with the Community Relations Commission.

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