City council members glad for discussions spurred by complaints at First Fridays, even if new ordinances to solve problems aren’t forthcoming.

Goshen City Council members expressed hope that volunteers can fix some young-crowd issues with First Fridays, though they also expressed doubts that the effort can be sustained to the point that the city doesn't have to step in and prohibit the blocking of sidewalks.

Posted on April 24, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — If nothing else comes of two First Fridays-related requests made to the Goshen City Council, council members believe the community’s having a healthy discussion about dealing with youth issues.

One week ago, the council killed a special downtown First Fridays curfew and put on hold a new ordinance that would prohibit large groups from blocking sidewalks.

“We had a good meeting, a lot of public discussion” last week, said Tom Stump, council president and at-large representative.

Dixie Robinson, respresentative of the third district, and at-large Councilman Jeremy Stutsman agreed.

The council unanimously nixed a curfew which really wouldn’t have had much impact on the monthly downtown event.

The curfew by state law couldn’t kick in before 9 p.m., and First Fridays end at 9 p.m.

Stutsman said while he understands event organizers asking for a curfew, “we don’t want to drive young people away from downtown. With the curfew and the sidewalk ordinance, I just thought that it was too much at once,” Stutsman said.

Robinson said she doesn’t like the idea of penalizing the youths in the community who behave just because some cause problems.

On the sidewalk-blocking ordinance, council members unanimously decided to take a wait-and-see approach.

Last month First Fridays organizers and downtown merchants expressed concerns that if nothing’s done about unaccompanied minors who get dropped off for First Fridays events, the problem could harm the highly popular community block party.

The idea drew concerns from some members of the public, though, including teens who thought the moves unfairly targeted them.

Richard Aguirre, a member of the city’s community relations commission, warned that unscrupulous officials in the future could use the ordinance to target minority members of the community.

Aguirre and others suggested volunteers trying to keep groups from blocking the sidewalks, and that effort was tried at this month’s event.

The event went smoothly, but it also fell on Good Friday and during spring break week.

Stump said, “I think it’s a great way to handle it, if it works.” He expressed doubts, though, that the volunteer force is a long-term solution.

Stutsman agreed. “Is that sustainable?” He also said there was a police force of 20 at the event, which adds up to roughly $2,000. “Who pays for that? Does the city, or does downtown have to come up with that,” Stutsman asked.

Stutsman said there’s no racial or income-based component to the proposed ordinance about blocking sidewalks, though “I think that’s a valid conversation to have.”

He also said it doesn’t put any additional restrictions on the Constiutionally guaranteed rights to assembly above what’s already in state law.

The problem, Stutsman said, is that there’s actually a law making it criminal to block public spaces, and using that to fix the local issues would be drastic. The other option is a warning, and “Warnings only work so long, until they realize you’re only going to give a warning,” Stutsman said.

The next round of public discussion will come at the May 15 council meeting, where the ordinance will again come up for possible final passage.

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