“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” is one of the most famous newspaper editorials, penned in 1897 in by New York Sun Editor Francis Pharcellus Church in response to a letter to the editor from 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon. But while there may be a Santa Claus, he won’t be making an appearance in the annual Christmas Parade, as the Jackson City Council voted 3-2 on Sept. 15 to cancel the parade and the Fall Festival, and limit participation in the Veterans Day ceremony, due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Fall Festival and Christmas Parade are hosted by the Butts County Chamber of Commerce with help from the city of Jackson.
Mayor Kay Pippin stated the cancellations are cautionary measures taken in accordance with recommendations from the White House Task Force on the Coronavirus, Gov. Brian Kemp’s Executive Orders and the Georgia District Public Health Office to avoid crowded areas.
“I want to remind you ... that Georgia law requires our actions as a city council to be consistent with federal recommendations and our governor’s recommendations,” Pippin told the council. “So we are bound by law...
“I think this pandemic is an emergency and that we are required as elected officials, and it is our job and our responsibility to protect the health and safety and welfare of our people. That’s our No. 1 job.”
Council member Theodore Patterson made the motion to cancel the events, and Don Cook seconded it.
During discussion, Beth Weaver stated she would prefer to wait and see if Kemp continues to extend his executive orders limiting the number of people in gatherings, and to allow the Chamber to make the decisions on the events and come to the city for the permits.
Pippin replied that the Chamber had already presented its plan for the Fall Festival and that delaying the decision on the Christmas Parade would make it difficult to get everything arranged.
“What has been presented to me is that the Chamber is requesting a half-day festival followed by a street dance,” Pippin said. “That we close streets and host a street dance that night. Frankly, I found the street dance proposal laughable in this kind of environment. I think it is a grand idea. Nobody likes that kind of thing more than me, but not during a pandemic.
“As for the Christmas Parade, if you’re going to have something the size of either one of these, you’ve got to have a sizable amount of time to secure vendors and floats and sponsors. These are huge events. I don’t know that delaying will help much.”
Patterson said his concern is that no one can control the virus and that everyone is trying to keep people safe. He noted that the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and the Atlanta Falcons have all canceled tailgating before games.
“Everybody is taking big hits in this pandemic, but everybody is doing what they feel they can safely do to keep everybody as safe as possible,” said Patterson. “If we have any means of doing everything possible within our power to make sure that our citizens and our people are safe, then I feel like we have an obligation to do so.”
Ricky Johnson said he would prefer to give more credit to citizens and to the Chamber to keep everything safe.
“I would like to be able to give the Chamber credit to make their own type of arrangements to keep people safe. I believe the Christmas Parade and Fall Festival can be done,” he said.
The vote was called and was 3-2 in favor of canceling the events, with Weaver and Johnson casting the dissenting votes.
Present at the meeting were Roger Jewell of the Exchange Club of Jackson and Jean Bonner of the Greater Butts County Lions Club, who expressed concerns about getting permits for the Exchange Club Fair and the Wine and Cheese Gala, both of which are major fund-raising efforts for them.
Pippin told them the vote did not include private events such as theirs, but the council agreed with Pippin by consensus that any permits requested for events such as the gala or the fair must include a plan for social distancing and other safety requirements and that the plan must be submitted before they receive the permit.
On Sept. 16, John Thomas, chairman of the board of directors of the Butts County Chamber of Commerce, stated they were in agreement with the cancellations.
“The health and safety of the children, elderly and families in our community are of the utmost importance and while this cancellation is certainly a disappointment, we know it was not made lightly and is the best course of action given the current circumstances,” Thomas said. “We encourage everyone to take precautionary measures to keep yourself and your family safe and heathy, and look forward to better days ‘together’ when our lives return to a sense of normalcy.”