City Paper is not for tourists
The concert series at Fort Reno Park is back on following a meeting between organizer Amanda MacKaye and officials from the National Park Service and U.S. Park Police today. MacKaye announced that the series was canceled last week, saying that NPS and USPP officials had not explained a request that the concerts pay for a Park Police officer to work at each show. The meeting was brokered by D.C. shadow Sen. Paul Strauss, a former Fort Reno organizer, who confirmed the news.
According to Strauss, the parties worked out “a more community-oriented police presence that’s more appropriate to the venue.” Park Police were present for at least some of last year’s shows and, according to attendees, patrolled in police vehicles.
Organizers agreed today that they will pay for a police presence at this summer’s shows, but will not have to pay up front, as officials initially required. “You’ll see foot patrols or bike patrols,” Strauss said. “Something less disruptive to the environment.” Strauss said that while not every issue was worked out, “we made enough progress that everyone was comfortable moving forward.” Some of those issues include the hard costs of each night, the number of officers on hand for each show, and the number of hours they’ll be present, Strauss said, adding that Park Service Superintendent Tara Morrison recognized that “it’s a unique event.”
MacKaye, Morrison, and Park Police Lt. Allan Griffith appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi Show immediately after the meeting. Griffith acknowledged on the air that conversations about security should have begun last summer, but that the Park Service was asking the series to comply with broader regulations. Griffith said that one reason for the new requirement is staffing and budget changes at the Park Police’s Rock Creek station, whose officers were once able to cover Fort Reno without requiring overtime pay. Now, he said, the Park Police would need to fund that coverage by asking organizers to foot the bill for overtime officers.
MacKaye pulled the plug on the concerts last Thursday, a day after NPS and USPP officials didn’t show up at a meeting to discuss the security requirement. (She says she received an invoice for $2,640 that same day from Park Police.) In a statement that evening, Park Police and the Park Service said that their “primary goal is public safety” and that they were looking forward to further discussions with concert organizers. According to MacKaye, the Park Service informed her in early June that in order for the agency to issue a permit, concert organizers would have to pay for security.
This year’s series should begin July 7 and run for eight shows. Among the bands that were scheduled to play or had agreed to: Title Tracks, Priests, Alarms & Controls, Give, Puff Pieces, and 17 others.
In the aftermath of the cancellation, a petition on Change.org asking the Park Service to allow the concerts to continue as they have in past years garnered more than 1,600 signatures, as well as comments from veteran D.C. musicians like Eli Janney, James Canty, and Jenny Toomey. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland wrote a letter to the Park Service, as did D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Her letter to Morrison read:
I understand that a permitting issue has caused the organizer of the Fort Reno annual summer concert series to cancel this year’s series. The series has provided free entertainment to hundreds of music lovers and families in the District of Columbia and the region since 1968.
Apparently for the first time the National Park Service (NPS) has required the organizer to pay for a full-time U.S. Park Police officer to be in attendance throughout the concert series in order for her to receive the permit. I appreciate that NPS has now scheduled a meeting with the series organizer, Amanda McKay, on Monday.
Time is of the essence. I urge you to resolve this matter at your Monday meeting.
Update, 3:20 p.m. The Park Service released a statement about today’s agreement:
Earlier today representatives from the National Park Service, which includes the United States Park Police, met with Amanda MacKaye and DC Senator Paul Strauss to discuss the concert series at Fort Reno. The parties discussed the concerns for public safety and the best ways to move forward. The permit applicant agreed to pay for the presence of a USPP officer during each concert, and we are working out details about the payment such as due date and allowances for weather cancellations. Through these discussions, we gained valuable feedback about our processes, and we will look for ways to improve. The NPS is pleased that this longstanding community tradition will continue.
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery. This post has been updated. Due to a reporting error, the article originally referred to Lt. Allan Griffith as a sergeant.