MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — In a unanimous vote Monday, Feb. 3, Middle Township Committee created a nine-member committee to review policies of the annual Harvest Festival, including several township employees and members of community groups.
At the meeting, Mayor Tim Donohue said the membership is representative of the community, including representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, the local chapter of the NAACP and the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro as well as township employees and a representative of an arts group.
“We put together a good mix of people that I think will bring a lot of good ideas,” Donohue said.
Nancy McDevitt, the township’s special events coordinator, has been tapped to serve as chairwoman of the committee, which has until May 11 to present its final report and recommendations. That will give plenty of time for Township Committee to consider and implement any changes in advance of the 2020 event, Donohue said.
Held in Cape May Court House each October for decades, the Harvest Festival draws sizable crowds to the downtown each year. This year’s event drew complaints from some residents over the materials offered for sale by some vendors, including some that sold hats, shirts and flags supporting President Trump and one vendor offering rebel flags, which some see as a racist symbol. One of the flags included an image of a machine gun, stating Come and Take It.”
Donohue cited the politicization of the event, and the concerns raised by residents.
“One vendor was selling a lot of Confederate flag merchandise, which while we didn’t receive any specific complaints that day, really created an uproar after the fact,” said Donohue. “We’re very sensitive to that. No one wanted to see that happen. We don’t condone it in any way but it has started a conversation.”
On Monday, and in previous conversations, he has said he wants to return the focus of the event to Middle Township businesses, manufacturers, artists and craftspeople, as he described it, keeping the focus on what is best about Middle Township. He said he wants to make sure the event is family friendly and that all those attending feel safe.
There was no discussion of the resolution from members of the public or among committee members, but Donohue offered comments on the decision before the close of the meeting.
Plans are for the group to meet three or four times before finalizing a recommendation. Donohue had stated plans for a town hall meeting on the issue. On Monday, he said the committee will likely host one, most probably in Township Hall in the Cape May Court House section.
“The end goal is that everyone who attends has a good time,” he said.
After last year’s event, many residents took to social media to decry some of the vendors, especially the one displaying Confederate flags.
Appointed members of the new committee include McDevitt, superintendent of public works Rob Flynn, acting superintendent of recreation Dustin Sturm, Warren Wade of the Recreation Advisory Board, Rob Belasco of the township’s Economic Development Board, Karen Buckingham representing the Council on the Arts, Cheryl Spaulding of the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, Tracy Cardwell representing the local chapter of the NAACP and Mary Farrell of the Middle Township Chamber of Commerce.
Donohue said township solicitor Marcus Karavan would be available to give the new advisory group any legal advice.
“The Harvest Fest has grown to be a huge draw for our town and a great economic driver for that October weekend,” Donohue said in a prepared statement on the committee’s formation. “But along with growth and success, come new issues, challenges and concerns. We hope to focus on returning a local flavor to the festival; featuring more local artisans and crafts, local nonprofit organizations and more local food and beverages options. We will thoroughly review our vendor qualifications and requirements to ensure that all participants support the intended spirit of the event — an inclusive, family friendly day that celebrates the best that our hometown has to offer.”