No revote on Pride parade, listening session scheduled

Ever since Sylva Pride’s request to close downtown street’s was denied, people have rallied in support of the parade. File photo Ever since Sylva Pride’s request to close downtown street’s was denied, people have rallied in support of the parade. File photo

After the Sylva Town Council denied Sylva Pride’s road closure application for the annual Pride Parade, the community organization has decided to hold “Chalk About It,” to talk to community members and garner input on the best path forward. 

“We are committed to listening deeply, speaking respectfully, and encouraging a spirit of collaboration as we grow in greater unity,” Sylva Pride Board of Directors said in a statement.

For the past three years, Sylva Pride has held a Pride festival downtown that included a march on a portion of Main and Mill streets, requiring a partial road closure. The town board is responsible for approving temporary road closure permits and submitting road closure resolutions to the Department of Transportation to stop, block or detour traffic on state-maintained roads.

However, during its March 21 meeting, the town board denied Pride’s road closure application in a 3-1 vote with one member absent. This decision came despite a letter of support for Pride’s parade from over 25 downtown businesses, and assurance from Pride’s director that the organization could pay for the town resources required for the road closure.

“Sylva Pride is prepared to make this happen in any way we can,” said Burgin Mackey at the time.

Following the decision to deny the application, then-Commissioner Natalie Newman suggested that the board take a second look at the application during its April 11 meeting.

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In order for an item that has been denied by the board to come back up within a year, someone on the prevailing side needs to bring it back for reconsideration.

“It is not the denial that has been so troubling to me; more so it is how flippantly and hastily this board made that decision with little to no consideration about what was before us,” said Newman.

According to Newman, she spoke with Commissioner Blitz Estridge, and Commissioner Brad Waldrop spoke with Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh to try and convince either of them to bring the issue back before the board. No member of the majority who denied the application was willing to bring it back for reconsideration.

“During that meeting and the weeks following, I began considering the precedent set if we allowed all parades to take place with the caveat of them covering costs and I began considering how this could negatively spiral,” said Gelbaugh. “During a parade there is the budget concern, the safety of the general public and parade participants, the idea that our Main Street is a primary DOT road that affects traffic with little to no alternatives — for example, semi-trucks — the nearby commercial and residential residents affected and lastly, and I believe most important, staff retention. Keeping all positions filled in our police and public works department proves to be an ongoing challenge.”

Shortly after that April 11 meeting, Newman resigned from not only the town council, but every public board she served on.

“The handling of this vote by this board does not reflect our proposed town values and our claims to be committed to inclusivity. And for me at least, that’s hard to swallow,” Newman said.

In addition to the original application coming back before the town council, Sylva Pride was within its rights to reapply for a partial street closure on a different day than the one originally applied for. However, in a statement, the board of directors announced it would not seek a street closure for a different day.

“While our Board of Directors strongly disagrees with this decision, we have decided to not reapply for a parade permit with the Town of Sylva, we will improvise and overcome as we always do, however, Sylva Pride weekend is still on,” the statement read.

The directors said that they have seen immense support from the community and that they are “actively listening.” 

“Chalk About It” will take place from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, April 26, in front of the Sylva Pride mural in downtown Sylva. The event is intended to get community members talking about recent local events and chart a path forward.

“We would like to thank everyone who has shown initiative as we work to make our town a more beautiful and inclusive place,” the board of directors said. “We urge everyone to join us as we continue to make Sylva Pride 2024 the biggest and best yet.”

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