Supporters of the Prescott Park Arts Festival say complaints about alcohol use at concerts this summer are overblown.
Police in Portsmouth say they plan to step up enforcement of the alcohol ban at the festival, after complaints were filed with the state attorney general's charitable trust unit.
Hundreds of people have now signed on to a letter to the attorney general's office, arguing the complaints are manufactured by a small group opposed to the concerts.
Kathleen Cavalaro of Portsmouth wrote the letter, which she plans to send to the attorney general's office later this week.
She spoke with NHPR’s Morning Edition.
What was the thinking behind putting this letter together?
We had the distinct idea that perhaps the attorney general’s office was only hearing from a select few – I like to call them the complainers – and we thought we would provide some balance. We’ve been dealing with ongoing issues at the park and the complainers for a couple of years now. Recently, a story came out in the newspaper saying that people had complained to the attorney general’s office and Terry Knowles had come back to the city and said that she was taking these issues very seriously and that there needed to be more enforcement, and that was a little disheartening. So we thought maybe she was hearing only from that one side, and so we put together that letter whoever wanted to read it and was in support of it could sign it, and just give her another side of the story.
You do acknowledge in the letter that there may in fact be some minimal drinking happening in the park, but you say it’s not enough to warrant involvement from the state.
Right. We’re not in support of drinking in the park. We understand that it is against the law. We understand that the park and the city should enforce it, but they are already doing that. So the letter is just to say if there is a problem in the park, it is already being addressed. There really, in our opinion, is no reason for the attorney general’s office to get involved and make the situation more complicated, more burdensome than it already is.
If the trust is being violated, however minimally, doesn’t the attorney general’s office have an obligation to look into it?
Well, actually the trust indicates that there’s no sale of alcohol at the park. It’s a city-wide law that there’s no alcohol in the park. The festival is not selling alcohol in the park, so they are in compliance with what the deed stipulated. People bringing alcohol in the park, that’s the same as any other park in the city. There should be enforcement by the police. That should be a Portsmouth police issue, and they are in fact doing that in every single park in the city.
But if it’s a non-issue, why not let the process play out?
Because for these people, it’s never been an alcohol issue. They will stop at nothing to make the festival go away. They’ve gone to Prescott Park advisory committee meetings, city council meetings, during the master planning session, they have gone on record that they would like the festival to not be there and have it moved somewhere else. This is just one example of them moving the goal line. When complaint doesn’t work or it’s not effective, they move on to the next complaint. So this has never been about an alcohol problem in the park. This has been about them using whatever tactic possible to make the festival go away.
Have you personally witnessed anyone drinking in the park during an event?
I have never witnessed it. I did witness the one and only citation being issued by the police officer after the two complainers went into the park to make sure that enforcement was being done. They found someone and they reported it to one of the staff members. The staff member came over and said it was not allowed. The police officer was sort of harassed by them. He said he didn’t witness anything so he would have no reason to go over and give a citation, but after much harassment, he finally went over and asked him to open the cooler. There were four beers in it; three unopened, one open. He confiscated it and was sort of pressured to give him a citation, so he gave him a $40 citation and the problem was solved. That is the one and only citation issued at the Prescott Park Arts Festival in 40-plus years.
The park is drawing bigger names, which obviously brings in more people. Do you feel there’s any validity to concerns about the impact that has on the surrounding neighborhoods?
There were some valid complaints. I’m sure noise must have been hard to deal with at times, but the fact of the matter is the city and staff has taken the valid complaints into consideration and they’ve gone to great lengths to tackle those problems. They now have a professional sound engineer who is at every single show with their very expensive equipment that monitor the decibels. If it’s green, it’s fine. If it’s yellow, that’s a warning. And if it’s red, it’s too loud. And this is a third party. They’re taking detailed notes and giving the report for the entire season. And the city and staff will take those results and will continue to improve from there. So whatever valid complaints have been happening, the city and the festival have been taking proactive and very expensive steps to do everything they can to make everyone happy.