Halloween event nixed by Dahlonega city council

  • Families line the downtown square during last year's Trick or Treat event.
    Families line the downtown square during last year's Trick or Treat event.

The city of Dahlonega doesn’t have the power to cancel holidays.
However, following the recommendations of city staff and the guidelines of the CDC, the city council agreed not to put on a city sanctioned Halloween event this year, during Monday’s Dahlonega City Council meeting.
“Trick-or-Treating on the square has traditionally drawn thousands of kids, something that we thoroughly enjoy,” Mayor Sam Norton said during the meeting. “I would love to see it continue, but I don’t know if during a pandemic is the right time.”
Between the large gathering of kids in close proximity of one another to the potential spread of germs through the handing out of candy and sweets, the council decided hosting an event of the traditional magnitude would be irresponsible.
“In the survey that was done here in Dahlonega, and the merchants are the ones who put this on, 75 percent just said, based on the survey, that they’re not going to do it, so you’re only going to have 25 percent of the merchants that are going to want to do it anyhow,” councilman Johnny Ariemma said. “I think that in itself is giving everybody the sign that it should be cancelled this year.”
Ariemma said he doesn’t even feel comfortable handing out candy in his neighborhood.
“I live in Sky County, we typically get between six and seven hundred kids in that neighborhood, it’s a big to-do for us,” he said. “...You think, seven hundred kids coming up to someone, one of those seven hundred kids certainly has COVID, so I’m a little hesitant myself personally to do trick-or-treating this year, but I hate to disappoint the kids, I really do because they’ve certainly had quite a disappointment this year.”
Councilwoman JoAnne Taylor agreed, but keeping the kids safe is the number one priority.
“I feel bad about disappointing the children in the community,” she said. “On the other hand, we’re trying to keep them safe and well, which I think is our primary responsibility.”
However, just because the city isn’t promoting or sponsoring an event on Halloween doesn’t mean vendors will be barred from handing out candy.
“We cannot stop individuals from expressing their behavior and handing out candy anyway, but we can, as the city manager said, not sponsor it or promote it and then if they do that, then that’s their own discretion,” Norton said. “...I’m sure across the country, people are going to be handing out candy regardless of what the government says.”
Which leads to the primary concern brought up by councilman Mitch Ridley: keeping the public safe.
“My concern is the public safety,” Ridley said. “I think that we cannot shy away from public safety. I would say trick-or-treating is going to take place on the 31st of October. There’s nothing that the city can do that will stop it. So as far as downtown, I would say that we have our marshall’s office in place to direct traffic, if needed, to allow safely crossing. Other than that, this is not a city sanctioned event, this is not a DDA event, this is not a Mainstreet event. This is a public safety issue and that is where I stand.”
The approach of not promoting any Trick-or-Treating events was similarly announced in Gainesville, leaving the council to believe there could be even more foot traffic stirring in Dahlonega on Halloween.
Councilman Roman Gaddis asked about the possibility of having to shut down the square to traffic in impromptu fashion as a result of Trick-or-Treaters, saying that an unplanned shutdown of the square has never happened that he’s aware of.
City Manager Bill Schmid said that the City Marshall would be prepared for all possibilities for the day.
“We’ll be prepared with contingencies that we don’t want to advertise right now,” Schmid said.
No vote was taken as no action was necessary, but the council members seemed to be on the same page.
“What I’m hearing is that we will not condone it, we will not support it, we will not sanction it, we will hold our City Marshall in reserve if public safety requires him to help a crosswalk or things of that nature,” Norton said.
Norton reiterated just how busy the downtown area becomes in the final months of the year, usually beginning with the Gold Rush Days festival, which was cancelled last month due to COVID-19 concerns. As the threat of COVID-19 lingers, the future of many events that draw large crowds could continue the trend of being cancelled or at the least, heavily modified.
“Just so we know the magnitude of what kind of juggling is going on, between now and January 1st, there’s probably 40 events that’s going to happen downtown,” Norton said. “Some of these events are mighty heavy lifting and require staff involvement.”
Councilman Ron Larson was not in attendance at the council meeting.