The COVID-19 pandemic claimed another victim on June 30 with the cancellation of the “National Party of Texas,” which was scheduled for July 31-Aug. 2.
At a special meeting of the Schulenburg City Council last Tuesday, the aldermen voted 5-0 to ban outdoor gatherings of 100 or more. Schulenburg Festival Association president Michael Zweschper said he was disappointed but understood the decision.
The measure came on the heels of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order last week that gave local jurisdictions the power to do so. Other restrictions were also enabled by the governor in response to the drastic spike in cases.
“I think with the way things are going right now, we have no choice but to follow the 100 gathering (limit),” Alderman Larry Veselka said. “I wish we could say 50 – the way the numbers are climbing in Fayette County and Lavaca County.
“I think we have to think about our citizens, too – think about their well-being,” Veselka added.
Alderman Ben Herzik said he didn’t “like it” but agreed it was the right thing to do.
“If I was sitting over there, I wouldn’t care but, sitting here, we have to put the community first,” Alderman Chip Bubela said.
Alderman Wendy Fietsam said it’s the responsible thing to do, especially with school starting a few weeks later. She said she heard from parents who said they wouldn’t let their kids attend anyway. Alderman Geoffrey Schiffli called the measure “pragmatic.”
“I think, sometimes, people don’t want to make the hard decisions,” City Administrator Tami Walker said. “They’re looking at leadership to make those decisions for them and that’s a lot of the reason why we’re here. You can sit here and argue facts or fear but it’s coming down to numbers right now and they’re increasing daily.”
In addressing the Council, Zweschper said he would not try to talk the alderman into allowing the Festival.
“If I was sitting where y’all are, ... I’d basically be leaning the same direction,” he said.
The same demographics that come to town, bolstering the local sales tax revenue, attend the Festival but not all at one time, Zweschper said, so the same precautions done by local retailers could be done at the Festival.
“So, there’s multiple ways of looking at it,” he said. “My job is to look at it from both sides. As of last night, I had 239 people who somehow found my cell phone and texted me individually, ‘Don’t let us down.’ It’s my job to deliver that message. I’m not going to be angry, upset, or mad. I’m going to be disappointed because nobody wants the Festival more than I do.”
Other than the loss for the Association, which gives scholarships and donates to the community, many local non-profit organizations won’t be able to have one of their biggest fund-raisers, Zweschper said. He said deposits had been put down for three musical acts, including the headliner, Restless Heart, but other than that, the Association hasn’t spent a great deal to this point. The contracts with the entertainers included a provision for reimbursement if the Festival was cancelled by order of a governmental entity, Zweschper said.
Veselka mentioned the possibility of allocating additional Hotel Occupancy Funds for the Association to recoup some of its expenditures. Walker said that could be considered at a later Council meeting. She also stated that a benefit in mid-July would have to be cancelled as well as possibly a youth baseball camp.
Later last week, the annual Festival Scholarship Pageant, scheduled for July 18, was postponed, according to directors Mary Jane Pesek and Bethany Smrkovsky.
In other action at the special meeting, the Council approved keeping its meetings at the Council chambers rather than returning to teleconferencing but with safety protocols in place. Everyone in attendance Tuesday wore face coverings, had their temperature taken upon entering, and seats were spread out.