From the City Manager 10/21/16
Let the festivities begin! (Thanks to a lot of hard work)
Our annual Neewollah festival showcases all that is great about our small town. My hat is off to the hundreds of volunteers who come together in a true spirit of community to create a spectacular celebration for hometowners and tens of thousands of guests. It’s really an amazing feat and something we should all be proud of.
What’s also gratifying to me is the equally important work of City staff to prepare for the festivities and help ensure the nine-day event goes off without a snag. Because Neewollah functions as a well-oiled machine year after year, the behind-the-scenes contributions of City staff may go largely unnoticed by the average citizen. So, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the vital work they do.
Street, Sanitation, Water & Sewer Departments
Like clockwork each year around the first of October, our Street Department employees signal the festival’s approach by hanging the iconic orange-and-black Neewollah banners above the downtown intersections. This department also is responsible for placing traffic barricades downtown to cordon off parade routes and space for the carnival, bandstand, vendors and pedestrian gathering spaces, as well as setting up the detour route around downtown for traffic passing through the community. The Street Department also places the much-needed extra trash barrels downtown and strings the barricade rope in advance of the Grand Parade.
Sanitation Department employees put in extra hours to assist with the pre-Neewollah citywide and downtown cleanup events. (During our citywide cleanup activities two weeks ago, our crews assisted 217 citizens who brought their trash and brush to our designated drop-off locations.) They also manage the garbage accumulation during the week of the festival.
But perhaps the largest and most appreciated job of these departments is the post-event cleanup! Have you ever noticed the miraculous Sunday morning transformation of streets, sidewalks and trash cans after a week’s deluge of corndog sticks, paper plates and roasted corn cobs? The quick and thorough, get-us-back-to-normal cleanup job is a team effort of the Street, Sanitation, Water and Sewer Departments.
Independence Police Department
Considering the number of visitors who travel to Independence during the festival, it’s like hosting an additional city. With so many diverse groups of people, so much vehicle traffic and activities happening at multiple venues, our officers have their hands full monitoring safety, security and lawfulness. Fortunately, our local force is well prepared and has allies in the Kansas Highway Patrol, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and neighboring cities’ police departments who annually offer additional manpower to support law enforcement during the festival.
Citizens, too, can support this effort by respecting all traffic barricades, designated permitted parking and “no parking” areas and all handicapped-accessible sidewalk ramps at the downtown street corners and mid-blocks. Due to the heightened demands on officers during the event, there is a “zero tolerance” policy for violations that may result in citing and towing of vehicles and removal of chairs blocking handicapped access.
Like all other departments, Fire and EMS staff begin ramping up for the festival weeks ahead with the philosophy “expect the best, prepare for the worst.” In early October, crews round out all supply inventories and double check the proper functioning of all equipment. The department’s disaster response trailer also is evaluated for readiness and is staged near downtown during the festival.
Fire/EMS staff avoid scheduling vacations during the festival to ensure adequate manpower is available at all times, and on the Saturday of the grand parade, when our population explodes, every fire truck and ambulance is fully staffed. Additionally, a quick-response ATV is deployed on the street and staffed with a paramedic and EMT for faster navigation through the crowds in the event of a medical emergency downtown.
On Grand Parade day this year, our response capability will be backed up with a medical helicopter provided by the Air Methods service and stationed throughout the day on the helipad at Building D.
Our Fire and Public Safety staff also are responsible for monitoring safe practices among the food vendors and carnival operations. Staff ensure that all concession trailers are equipped with fire extinguishers and that vendors properly dispose of wastewater, food waste and grease (and there is A LOT of grease).
Likewise, the carnival set-up is inspected for fire safety and to ensure adequate fire lanes are available throughout.
Memorial Hall Staff
For our staff managing Memorial Hall, Neewollah actually starts in mid-September, when the cast of the musical production begins rehearsal, soon followed by rehearsals for the Queen Neelah pageant. Extra evening and weekend hours are often required of staff to be sure all facilities are accessible and all needs accommodated. This year, employees also were involved in discussions related to stage rigging as Neewollah searched for a solution for “flying” some of its “Little Mermaid” cast. Ultimately, the Neewollah organization contracted for construction of its own system designed to accommodate people. Just last week, Memorial Hall staff also supervised the installation of a new lighting control panel for the auditorium, which will be used in its first public stage event at tonight’s opening performance.
Riverside Park Staff
Fresh off of another successful Zoolloween event (which hosted approximately 2,000 guests), the park staff are prepping for tomorrow’s running events through the park and chili cookoff at the oval, to be followed next weekend by the annual high school band competition at the stadium. These events typically pack the park with people, cars and buses, and staff’s primary responsibility is making sure all facilities (particularly restrooms!) are well maintained and visitor-ready.
Given the scope of preparation involved in Neewollah and the fact that year after year the event is executed successfully and without incident, it truly is a phenomenal undertaking for Independence. I hope you’ll join me in thanking the many volunteers and City employees working diligently to pull it off and come out and show your support for the festival over the next nine days.
***Special Note: I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Uncle Jack’s Bar & Grill in downtown Independence, which has graciously offered to continue the tradition of providing a thank-you breakfast to all City crews working on Grand Parade day!City Manager Micky Webb