Aiken leaders address 'middle school parties' exposed by News 12

News 12 First at Five / Friday, May 17, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- A News 12 investigation is making waves through the City of Aiken.

"They should have been stopped the first time there was an issues. Period," said Mary O'Hare, the owner of M.B. Jewelry and Beads in downtown Aiken.

The video we showed you weeks ago shows a middle school party at the Aiken City Hall's conference center on March 28.

The 40-minute video, shot around 11 p.m. that night, shows a large group of juveniles on the streets around the Municipal Building in Aiken. At one point, some flash gang signs. Others can be heard cussing in the streets. Yelling dramatically, an adult, who isn't seen, talks about a fight.

Police were called after fights during a December party, then the party in March, yet the city let the group book another party for June.

In late April, City Manager Richard Pearce told News 12 he knew nothing about the middle school parties. However, News 12 later found a sticky note on the rental agreement for the Dec. 27 party.

"This is the one with the problem," it reads.

"They should have been removed. They should have been red-flagged," O'Hare said. "Parties of that nature should have been stopped. Period."

While O'Hare was shocked to see the video, members of the Aiken City Council were, too.

"I was shocked," said Councilwoman Gail Diggs. "I was very disappointed because it was news to me!"

Diggs says the City Council wasn't aware of these problematic parties until after the News 12 story aired.

"That was the problem," she said. "I think after the first incident, the City should have had an intervention and that didn't happen."

Now, City Manager Pearce has proposed some changes. Private security will not be allowed for parties like the ones in March and December. Instead, renters will have to contract off-duty Aiken Department of Public Safety officers. Pearce says a "grid" system will be used to determine the number of officers needed on a case-by-case basis.

Other council members have asked for a steeper damage deposit. Councilman Philip Merry says the current $100 deposit is not adequate. Merry has also asked for a risk manager to assess the entire rental system.

In a council meeting on Monday night, the topic was addressed at the end of the meeting. The item was not on the agenda, which confused and frustrated several members of the council.

It was revealed that Alisha Barnes, the renter for the middle school parties, has canceled her event for June 6 at the City Hall conference center. Pearce said Barnes is considering another venue outside city limits, possibly the fairgrounds.

City Manager Pearce told the council that Public Safety is developing an updated policy for security at the City Hall rentals. He told the council that Chief Charles Barranco has been involved in talks since the News 12 investigation aired.

Mayor Fred Cavanaugh, who sounded frustrated, told Pearce he doesn't want this to happen again.


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