Farmington officials ‘punt’ Swing Dance event permit

When it comes to swing dancing in downtown Farmington, the question that concerns city officials is not whether, but when.

Council members on Monday tabled a decision on Swing Farmington’s annual special event request to hold the Thursday dances at the Walter E. Sundquist Farmington Pavilion and Riley Park. Across the board, they expressed support for the event, which typically moves outdoors (weather-permitting) from the first Thursday in May through mid-October.

The discussion centered around start date language, which specifically referred to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “State Home. Stay Safe.” Executive Order. Council member Maria Taylor wanted more clarity.

“I just don’t want to convey that everybody can get together even though conditions may not be safe for people to do so,” she said. “There are other guidelines that could extend further than staying in our homes.”

Mayor Sara Bowman mentioned the possibility that the stay-at-home order could be relaxed, rather than lifted, and said other orders or guidelines could affect outdoor events.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa also pointed out that the application has no contingency plan related to COVID-19. He said the city may, for instance, enact capacity limits at Riley Park.

“It feels like maybe we should punt,” he said.

Health and public safety ‘paramount’

“I can’t fathom that swing dancing would fall within social distancing guidelines,” council member Steven Schneemann said. “I love this event, I’m so glad that (organizer) Alexander (Steward) does this year after year, I know it’s a lot of work for him. I would tend to agree that we probably need to take a wait and see attitude about it.”

Bowman said planning future events and having something to look forward to helps her through these challenging times, “however, health and public safety have to be paramount… I would like to see this move forward tonight, with all the contingencies that have been discussed.”

With advice from city attorney Beth Saarela, Taylor’s motion made the start date contingent upon any current executive order, amended executive order, new executive order, or other emergency guidelines. But after her motion got a second, LaRussa moved to table it.

LaRussa, council member David DeLind, and Taylor all voted in favor of tabling to the council’s May 4 meeting.

“I’d like more information before supporting a public gathering,” DeLind said. “I think especially now, it’s very important to have things to look forward to. I’m not opposed to it. I just think we need more information about how public spaces are going to look.”

Taylor suggested that officials talk about all outdoor events after Whitmer provides additional guidance. The current Executive Order expires on April 30.