CLAREMONT — City Manager Ed Morris announced Wednesday night that Claremont will not hold its annual Fourth of July fireworks show this year, citing concerns about the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic and larger crowds than usual with surrounding communities canceling their individual fireworks events.
The city was hoping to plan a fireworks show where people could park in different sections of the city and watch from their vehicles, Morris told the Claremont City Council. But when Lebanon canceled its own fireworks program last week, Claremont would have been the only town within a 100-mile radius hosting a Fourth of July fireworks show.
“[We felt] the amount of people we might pull wouldn’t be responsible at this time,” Morris explained. “Nor would we have the police and other resources to handle a crowd that size were it to happen.”
Morris said the city will explore opportunities to hold the fireworks at a later date, depending on the course of the pandemic. He also said he discussed the situation with the sponsor, McGee Toyota of Claremont, who understood the decision.
Some councilors, however, disapproved of the city’s decision.
“We’re going to cancel them when everything is opening back up again?” said Councilor Jon Stone. “I think a lot of people are playing into the whole fear thing. I think it’s time that we get back to business and take some precautions if necessary, but we should start moving forward.”
“I understand the concern, but I think with planning we can mitigate the risks,” said Councilor Erica Sweetser. “Even [large retailers] have had to figure out how to manage the number of people who come inside… There are ways to mitigate the risk, or at least think about that.”
Other councilors pointed out that the crowds for the city’s Fourth of July event are too large to compare to local box stores, or even Friday’s racial justice protest in Broad Street Park, which councilors said only had 100 people, most of whom wore masks.
“There is a reason why all the other communities around us decided to [cancel their similar events],” Councilor Deborah Matteau said. ”Because fireworks draw huge crowds… If we keep ours, we’re not just going to have our normal couple of thousand people. We’re going to have two or three times that.”
Councilor Andrew O’Hearne asked Morris about the feasibility to hold a shorter, scaled-back fireworks show, suggesting that a shorter program might discourage out-of-towners from making the trip.
But Morris said a shorter program wouldn’t be cost effective, as much of the expense is consumed by the set up and permits, regardless of how many fireworks are used. Additionally, the city would have difficulty messaging the details about the reduced program.
City councilor criticized over social media post
During the citizen’s forum portion of the meeting, Claremont resident Sam Killay raised a grievance about a Facebook post by Stone to constituents, which gave inaccurate information about a resolution approved by the city council.
On May 27, the city council voted 8-1 to adopt a non-binding resolution in which the council would strongly encourage citizens to wear face masks in public spaces to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. During that discussion, councilors reiterated numerous times that the resolution was only a recommendation and would not be enforced.
Stone, who opposed the resolution, wrote the following day on his city councilor Facebook page that he opposed “the resolution mandating the wearing of face masks,” even though there was no mandate.
“I advocated once again for voluntary compliance, but was outvoted by the other members of the council who continue with their ‘progressive’ agenda,” Stone wrote.
Killay called Stone’s post “wildly inaccurate” and misleading, as it implies that the council’s resolution was involuntary.
“Anyone who listened to that discussion can confirm that it was not a mandate, but a recommendation only,” Killay told the council. “But Mr. Stone is explicitly describing it to his constituents as a mandate.”
Killay said the public needs to know whether Stone’s post was due to a misunderstanding or a “conscious choice to be misleading.”
“He wrote the exact opposite of what happened,” Killay said. “When people say things that are deliberately false or deceptive, I call that lying.”
Killay had a previous conflict with Stone’s conduct on social media in 2018 when the councilor posted screenshots from Killay’s Facebook profile and shared them on his own personal page, where Stone and his friends on the platform ridiculed Killay and his wife.
In regard to this recent incident, Killay stressed that Stone’s post was not on his personal page but the one he uses to message to citizens. Killay said that he believes Stone was being deliberately misleading to stir citizen reaction to the council’s resolution, which would constitute “a breach of trust” and warrant Stone’s resignation.