News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, July 23, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There is a race against the clock to come up with a plan for next week's First Friday festivities following the last event that left six people injured.
"We cannot call everything that happens downtown on the first Friday of the month a First Friday event," said Brenda Durant with the Augusta Arts Council.
Durant is working with the city to lay down ground rules like the time frame.
"It's 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. That's First Friday," Durant said. "When people say they don't know who is in charge, as Sheriff Strength said, he is."
Security is the next big topic of conversation.
"We can put more security than you can stand," said Sheriff Ronnie Strength. "But somebody must pay for it."
It will cost about $18 an hour to hire a deputy. It would cost more than $32,000 a year for First Friday security. That would put 30 deputies behind the wheel for four to five hours.
"Obviously, we are going to have to find some dollars to do that," said City Administrator Fred Russell. "My job is to find that money."
City leaders are now reviewing suggestions from local merchants. One suggestion called the Respect Downtown initiative calls for a late-night 21 and up entertainment distirict. Curfew would be strictly enforced after 10 p.m.
"That doesn't make sense. We don't have the manpower to check everybody's identification," Strength said. "If you're 21, you can come. If you're not, you can't come. That will never work."
The challenge is now to determine what will work for downtown businesses.
"They have made it clear that without First Friday their business would really suffer," Durant said.
The event is now top priority for city leaders.
"You can't let the bad guys win," Russell said.
The First Friday committee meeting is this Wednesday at the commission chamber. The city administrator says he hopes to have a plan ready to present to the public by early next week.