Report on the Cancellation of Euphoria 2017

 

Introduction

 

Dear community members,

 

As you know, the Flashpoint Artists Initiative Board of Directors and Euphoria Event Leads recently made the difficult decision to cancel Euphoria 2017. This was due to the fact that

Carroll County denied our application for a mass gathering permit for the event.

 

Below, we outline the rough timeline of actions that led us to this decision. We hope that this additional insight into our process gives you a good understanding as to why we felt like canceling the event was the best option for our volunteers and participants alike.

 

Euphoria Leadership

 

The Euphoria Burn event is put on every year by Flashpoint Artists Initiative (FAI), a Georgia non-profit. The leadership of FAI consists of a 5-person, elected Board of Directors, as well as a series of committees that manage the critical aspects of the organization, including Public Works, Conduct, Events, Communication/TechOps, and Community Outreach.

 

The Events Committee is the most public-facing of these committees. This year, each event (Euphoria, the Art Fundraiser, and Alchemy) featured a separate set of Event and Department Leads (the Event Team). Each Event Team was then responsible for selecting a set of Team Leads. Altogether, the team of Euphoria Event and Team Lead volunteers was comprised of roughly 50 volunteers, who immediately began the planning process for the event scheduled to take place in early May.

 

History of Land Use and Permitting Requirements

 

For years, our spring (Euphoria) and fall (Alchemy) events were held at Cherokee Farms, in LaFayette, GA. However, in September 2015, shortly before our Alchemy event was scheduled to take place, we received notice of a pending ordinance in Walker County that put in place restrictive regulations as to the nature of events on private property. You can read the ordinance here: http://www.walkerga.us/WalkerCountyGa/files/87/87e45461-609b-4943-ae52-10231d7af5e5.pdf

 

After much work with our General Counsel, we were luckily able to hold Alchemy 2015 without issue, but the impending ordinance, which lacked only the signature of the County Commissioner at the time of the event, forced us to find a new venue for Euphoria 2016.

 

As a result, we built a relationship with the landowners of Lavender Farms, in Eatonton, GA. We held Euphoria 2016 at this new location; however, tense relations with the landowner and county officials once again required a land move.

 

As luck would have it, a member of our event leadership had contact with a landowner in Bowdon, GA, someone who had previously hosted events on their property. This property had already been visited and vetted for Euphoria 2016, but was passed over due to its relatively small size. However, the landowner proved himself easy to work with, was willing to accommodate our larger event, and barring the existence of a burn ban throughout the state of Georgia, Alchemy 2016 at Little Big Jam also occurred without issue.

 

It is important to note that in light of Walker County’s proposed ordinance, our vetting process for both the Eatonton and the Bowdon properties involved a substantial amount of regulatory research. Each property was specifically chosen because of those counties’ lack of permitting requirements. Neither Euphoria 2016 nor Alchemy 2016 required special event permits.

 

Euphoria 2017 Permitting Discovery and Next Steps

 

For clarity, here are descriptions of the primary actors involved in the Permitting and subsequent cancellation process:

 

  • Ghini - Event Lead for Euphoria 2017

  • Mike D. - Landowner of the Little Big Jam property in Bowdon, GA

  • Rebecca R. - Event Lead for Alchemy 2016 and former primary contact with the Bowdon landowner

  • Michelle W. - President of the FAI Board of Directors and board liaison to the Public Works committee

  • Jacob D. - FAI’s General Counsel on retainer

  • Tim P. - The second in command at the county Sheriff’s office

  • Ben S. - Director of Community Development for Carroll County

  • Noah S. - A Bowdon city council member and local ally

  • Jay W. - The Fire Marshall for Carroll County

  • Mary R. - Vice President of the FAI Board of Directors and board liaison to the Events Committee

  • Avery J. - An attorney for Carroll County

  • Susan - Assistant to the district commissioner

 

February 26, 2017 - Ghini calls Mike D., the landowner for final approval on the official dates of the event, as well as the price of the land rental for the week. Mike preliminarily agrees to the terms.

 

March 12, 2017 - Ghini calls Mike once more to give an update on the event planning process, confirms a Team Lead and Public Works land visit for March 26, and discusses longer-term storage options for the property.

 

March 26, 2017 - Team Lead land visit takes place. Michelle W., the FAI President, shows Mike the first draft of the contract for land usage, but notes that additional changes are yet to be made. Michelle tells Mike to expect an email with a draft of the contract in the next couple days. Mike mentions that he would like a lawyer friend to look over the language before signing, so Michelle agrees to incorporate any edits before the contract is finalized. Mike also asks us to make sure we have everything squared away with the county. Michelle promises that the board will look into it, just in case.

 

March 28, 2017 - Michelle sends draft of contract via email for Mike’s review, then calls him to confirm receipt. Mike reiterates request for time to review the contract in full.

 

April 5, 2017. Rebecca R., former Carroll County point of contact sends an email to Ghini and the rest of the FAI Board of Directors titled "Bowdon contacts and notes," listing all the people the Board should speak with to make sure that the event is all squared away with the county.

 

April 7, 2017 - Ghini asks the Board who should take lead on dealing with the County. The Board agrees that Ghini should take the lead. Ghini emails the first recommended contact, Tim P., who works at the Sheriff’s office letting him know that we are looking to secure a positive, longer-term relationship with the county, and asking what we can do to help ensure that our presence is welcome.

 

April 8, 2017  - Tim replies to Ghini, and recommends that Ghini contact Ben S., Director of Community Development. Tim gives Ghini a phone number, and CCs Ben on the email.

 

April 10, 2017 - Ghini calls Ben and leaves a message to follow up on the email chain.

 

April 12, 2017 - As of the morning, Ghini has still not heard from Ben. Ghini calls the Carroll County development office and asks whether we will require an event permit. For context, Ghini explains that our event is similar to the other one at the Bowdon property. She says they “handle those all the time,” and the application fee is $50. Ghini immediately begins the drive to Carrollton to pay the fee. Halfway on the trip, Ghini receives a phone call from Ben S.Ben. says we will likely not get a permit so close to the start of the event. Ghini turns around, heads back to Atlanta and immediately notifies the Board of Directors. Ghini also contacts Tim and Noah S, a Bowdon City Council Member and local ally, asking for any advice. Tim says he believes there is no way the permit will clear on time.

 

April 13, 2017 - Ghini receives an email from Avery J., an attorney for Carroll County, informing Ghini that new event ordinances that were passed in January 2017. A copy of the ordinance was attached in the email. Noah runs all over Carroll County to garner support, including the acquisition of an official letter of recommendation and price quote for additional services from the Sheriff's office for the permit application. The FAI Board of Directors conducts an emergency phone call with Jacob and decides to put together an emergency permit application by April 17, so that we can be prepared to meet with Ben when he is back in the office.

 

April 14, 2017 - Ghini calls Jay W., the Fire Marshall, and explains that we are applying for an event permit. Ghini clarifies that we are the same people who put on Alchemy last fall, that we will have no need for a burn permit, but will require Fire Department approval for the permit application nonetheless. Ghini tells Jay that he will be coming to Carroll County to file the application, and Jay tells Ghini to leave his information with Ben. Noah says he has spoken to Ben, who has agreed to meet with us the following week. Ghini emails Ben to set a time for the meeting.

 

April 17, 2017 - Ben replies to Ghini’s meeting request, and suggests a meeting for Wednesday, April 19 at 1pm. Ghini emails our Fire Safety plan and event details to Jay, requesting an official letter from the fire department before the application permit meeting on Wednesday.

 

April 19, 2017 - Mary R., Vice President of the FAI Board and Ghini travel to Carrollton to meet with Ben. Noah attends to lend his support. At the meeting, Ghini and Mary officially file the permit application, with exception for a letter for the fire department. Ghini explains that he spoke with Jay last week, who did not mention any problems with our plans. Jay had told Ghini to include the fire safety information with the plan. Ben mentions that the Fire Marshall is currently out of town, but that he hopes to have word for us about the permit the following morning. Ghini asks whether there will be problem with the letter not being included, and Ben says he will not hold us responsible if we are "missing a comma."

 

April 20, 2017 - Ghini calls Ben and is notified that the event permit application was denied. Ben says that he will email Ghini the official letter. The letter details that the Euphoria event permit was denied for the following reasons:

 

  • The permit application is incomplete.  

  • FAI has not provided proof of a $5000 bond.

  • The event runs more than 3 days in length.

  • FAI has not demonstrated adequate preparations to deny non-ticket holders from the event.

  • FAI has not provided an official statement from the fire department.

  • FAI has not detailed the "number and identity" of medical personnel.

  • FAI has not provided details as to whether ticket holders are allowed to leave and return.

 

The Board of Directors discusses the rejection, requests that Jacob D. send one final appeal letter, and agrees to notify the community as to event cancellation if the Carroll County permit office is not receptive to the letter by close of business on April 21.

 

April 21, 2017 - Jacob drafts a letter and sends it to Ben mid-day, detailing the following responses to the stated grounds for permit denial.

 

  • Bond: A cash bond can be paid on Friday, or proof of bond can be provided before the start of the event.

  • Limiting access by non ticket holders: This information was not originally required in the ordinance. However, the property is fenced, preventing people from walking in.No tickets are sold at the gate. All ticket holders are required to show government ID, and wear an identifying wristband.  Security and event staff have had training in recognizing people without tickets, and will alert us if they are spotted.  They will be escorted off site.

  • In and out policy: Each ticket holder is given a token, referred to as "swag".  Ticketholders are allowed to leave at any time, but are extremely discouraged from doing so. In order to return to the event, each person must pay the full price of a ticket ($69) or turn in fifteen tokens, which are not returned. Ticket holders who need to leave the site for medical treatment may get a medical pass, and return after treatment without restrictions.

  • Emergency medical staff:  Medical and security staff will be contracted and provided by Flow Event Services. Our contract calls for two medics available during the event, with 24 hour coverage. Further information on their staff can be provided before the event.

  • Fire department letter: The fire marshall was contacted a week ago, and has not indicated they require any additional resources from us.

 

Jacob calls Ben to follow up on receipt of the appeal letter. The office administrator said Ben was out for the day and would be back in on Monday. In light of the delayed response to the letter, the FAI Board of Directors agrees to give preliminary notice to the Burn Community that the permit application was denied and that we were establishing next steps.

 

Later, Jacob is able to get a hold of Ben via mobile. Ben gives Jacob the number of the assistant to the district commissioner, who may have control over the appeal process. Jacob calls Susan and asks to set up a meeting with the commissioner as early next week as possible.

 

The Board of Directors and Ghini decide to look for last-minutes alternative locations in an attempt to save the event. Ghini calls Noah to see whether there are any alternative locations in Bowdon. There are no good candidates on short notice.

 

Michelle calls the landowner of Cherokee Farms to see whether the land is available. It is not available. Jacob calls Walker County officials to confirm whether the Ordinance has been signed. The Ordinance has been signed, making a date and location change unfeasible.

 

April 24, 2017 - As of the morning, there has been no word from the commissioner or his assistant. Jacob calls Susan once more. She briefly talks to the commissioner who says he does not have time to meet with us. Susan refers Jacob to a new contact at the county attorney’s office.

 

In light of an opaque appeals process and only four days remaining until build weekend, the Board of Directors unanimously votes to cancel the event and notifies the community.

 

Conclusions

 

Ultimately, the decision to cancel Euphoria 2017 was a difficult one, certainly not one taken lightly, as evidenced by the thorough, lengthy decision making process. We hope that our detail of this process is valuable to your understanding of the decision.

 

Unfortunately, this means that we once again find ourselves without land for Alchemy 2017, and on relatively short notice. It is only by the hard work and dedication of our volunteers and community that we can move forward, and this is no exception. As such, we would love the following assistance:

 

  1. Send any recommendations of land, venues, etc. to newhome@flashpointart.org. The more options we have, the better.

  2. If you are interested in joining the committee that handles land search and community relations, please also email newhome@flashpointart.org. We’ve got all hands on deck, but we need yours, too.

 

If you have any questions or feedback as to how we handled the decision making process, or about this document about the cancellation of Euphoria, don’t hesitate to reach out to board@flashpointart.org.

 

Yours in service,

 

Michelle Waymire, FAI President

Mary Robb, FAI Vice President

Daniel Draven, FAI Treasurer

Chad Jones, FAI Secretary

David Stabler, FAI Non-Voting Board Member

Mike Alberghini, Euphoria Event Lead

 

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