Tuesday, 13 October 2020 22:27

Hamlet Christmas parade canceled over COVID concerns

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There were several Grinches on floats during the 2019 Christmas parade in Hamlet. This year's event has been canceled. There were several Grinches on floats during the 2019 Christmas parade in Hamlet. This year's event has been canceled. RO file photo

HAMLET — Consider the coronavirus as the Grinch who stole Christmas in 2020 as another holiday tradition has been put on hold due to COVID concerns.


The Hamlet City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to cancel this year’s annual Christmas parade.

The council made the decision after being brought up by City Manager Matthew Christian.

The city already cut its contribution to Old Fashioned Christmas earlier this year before approving the budget.

“The parade and the tree lighting are going to be a challenge for us,” Christian said.

Although Christian said a decision wasn’t imperative for this meeting, Councilman Jesse McQueen suggested that a decision should be made on the parade because of the pre-planning that goes into it.

“I don’t think we need to wait too much longer,” McQueen said.

Christian then recommended canceling the parade and considering an alternative for the annual tree-lighting ceremony, suggesting the city could live-stream the event.

“We’re forced to think outside the box daily with this thing (COVID-19) and that’s one thing I think we could manage,” Christian said.

Councilman Eddie Martin said there was no way the city could manage social distancing and mask-wearing for the parade.

“We’ve just got to be careful about putting anybody together at any kind of large event,” said Mayor Bill Bayless.

Councilwoman Abbie Covington then suggested holding the tree-lighting without involving the public.

“That, really to me, is one of the most special things we do at Christmastime, and so many people enjoy it,” she said. “I just hate to give it up.”

Christian said he would look into alternatives to still have the event without a crowd.

“While we may not be able to gather, I think we can still engage folks.

In a related note, Christian said that all traditional gatherings for city employees were canceled for the year and requested that the council approve Nov. 30 and Dec. 23 as additional paid city holidays.

Christian said those dates would not significantly impact city services such as garbage collection.

“I think that’s a great idea,” McQueen said before the council approved the measure.

McQueen also asked what the city planned to do about Halloween, with it being just two weeks away.

Since the city doesn’t sponsor any Halloween activities, Christian said he didn’t think the council should make any formal declaration. Rockingham, Dobbins Heights and Richmond Community College have all canceled their events.

“I think the message would be the message that we have every day, which is if you’re going to go out and do things, do so responsibly with the guidelines in mind for preventing the spread of COVID-19 — but also, consider your neighbors,” Christian said. “I think a lot of folks are concerned, given our case numbers … but … I don’t think we have the authority or the resources to say, ‘Stay in your house’ or ‘Come out,’ or either or.”

“I think people are expecting us to say something,” Covington said. “It may not be our legal right, but I can’t tell you how many people have said ‘What about Halloween? What are you going to do about Halloween?’”

Councilman Oscar Sellers said in years past there have been large numbers of young people gathered in certain areas and said there should be restrictions “for protection.”

In regards to trick-or-treating, Covington said she didn’t “see any possible way under the shining sun to do it safely.”

City Clerk Gail Strickland said she thought she had seen on Facebook where the residents of Hylan Avenue had said they weren’t going to do anything this year, but one neighbor said he’s only aware of one person saying that.

Christian again cautioned against any formal decision, with McQueen wondering if the city attorney (who wasn’t present) should be consulted about the city’s responsibility.

Both Martin and Bayless said the city had no responsibility.

“We don’t want to stop people from walking down the street,” Bayless said. “I don’t want to see city police officers chasing kids up and down the street. That’s just ridiculous.”

Christian said there seemed to be a consensus of concern about gatherings, “and we can do our best to both inform people and enforce that when necessary.”

Earlier in the meeting, the council voted to allow three businesses — an insurance agency, taxi company and real estate company —  renting office space in the Hamlet Depot to return.

Christian said the council took action earlier in the year to close all city facilities, including the Depot because of the pandemic, essentially leaving those tenants without an office —  although arrangements were made for them to have access as needed. Rent was also suspended during that time.

The city manager said the city has developed policies with precautionary measures that would allow the businesses to reopen and serve customers.

Following a public hearing, the council approved a rezoning request for a duplex at 103 and 105 Gin Mill Road from neighborhood business to residential.

Bayless said the property owner stated it had always been used as a residence and that the planning board recommended the rezoning at a Sept. 21 meeting.

The council also approved tax releases for October and Bayless read aloud a proclamation for Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

During their comments, each council member mentioned the recent passing of Pastor Ricky Jacobs and his impact on the community.