The time has come, the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of Q — and beer — and covid vax —
Of Melon Fest — and Queens —
And why are tempers boiling hot —
And will some calm be seen.
The City of Howell has been through a lot during my time here. There have always been things that have roused emotions, created security concerns, and garnered widespread (and mostly unflattering) media attention — and it’s always survived. Every single time.
Auction of Klan items?
Black Lives Matter support rally, when men with guns showed up to provide unrequested and unwanted support to law enforcement?
The controversy around the BLM rally that resulted in a tweet that Howell should be the “first city to burn”?
Wide and hugely unflattering news coverage when a Black Howell woman filed suit against Mr. B’s for employment discrimination?
Being the only area in this part of the state with electricity during the biggest blackout in U.S. history, and having hordes of people descending on it in search of fuel and water and food? (Which coincidentally happened 18 years ago on Aug. 14.)
The controversy over the tiny neighborhood round- or swerve-abouts?
The city’s first Pride Rally and March, held in downtown Howell just last month?
The town still stands after a wonderful and peaceful event.
Howell is tough, and its ability to survive — and thrive — are what makes the recommendation of the city’s three top leaders so difficult to understand.
Apparently, Mayor Nick Proctor, City Manager Erv Suida, and Police Chief Scott Mannor have just discovered that people can be real assholes on Facebook.
And because some people are being real assholes on Facebook, the three recommended in an emergency meeting of the Howell City Council at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 30, that the entire Melon Fest be canceled. They fear that emotions have been whipped to such an extent — and that people have said so many stupid and vile things on Facebook — that they fear violence at the event, despite no evidence to support the assumption.
How did it all come to this?
What happened that was so awful that the city would actually consider canceling Melon Fest?
An adults-only Drag Queen Bingo event had been booked for the Melon Festival Tent from 9:30-11:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14. Now, I’ve never been to a drag queen bingo event, but I imagine it would be something like a cross between Dame Edna and RuPaul’s Drag Race, the television reality show competition that’s so popular it’s enjoyed a dozen or so seasons.
Culture warrior Meghan Reckling, chair of the Livingston County Republican Party (with her sights set on elected office), whipped up her followers and cranked up the outrage machine by sharing on social media that the Drag Queen Bingo event slated for the Melon Tent on Saturday night — a performance that was limited to those over 21 — wasn’t in keeping with her vision of what the family friendly atmosphere of the festival ought to be. She even wrote a guest column on the LivPo to explain her position.
Now, this would be the perfect place for me to make a snarky comment about Reckling clutching her pearls, or how in the world is the traditional Melon Fest Beer Tent considered family friendly, but I’ve done that and I am not in the mood to do it again.
I must, however, share that I am simply stunned city leaders would consider canceling Melon Fest with no credible threats in hand other than the mean, nasty, stupid things people say on Facebook.
Think about it: What is scarier? Men dressed in white hoods, or men dressed as women?
Which is more threatening to our family friendly little town? Men dressed in white hoods, or men dressed as women?
We’ve survived some really, truly scary things. Drag Queen Bingo? We need to calm the hell down! There are other things we could and probably should be more concerned about, like the QAnon slogan on the side of Diamond Chrome Plating in Howell; the handful of anti-vaxxers protesting on Grand River Avenue and Byron Road over the weekend; and Howell City Council candidate Lee Ann Blazejewski, running in Tuesday’s primary, who bragged on social media about being at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, describing it as a “beautiful” event. While there’s nothing to suggest Blazejewski was among those who breached the capitol, the fact that she was there and didn’t notice or won’t acknowledge the violence is concerning.
See? We have a lot more important things that we could worry about if we choose to do so.
I am thankful that because cooler heads on the Howell City Council prevailed, a compromise of sorts was banged out, and the Melon Festival might just be saved. The city has suspended the social district for Saturday, Aug. 14, though I am unclear as to whether people can still consume alcohol inside downtown establishments. The Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority has until 5 p.m. Wednesday to agree to shut down the beer tent at 4 p.m. on Melon Fest Saturday; if it doesn’t agree to do that, the city will pull the plug on the entire Melon Festival.
While I think this past week has been much ado and Facebook assholery over nothing, the Great Melon Fest Drag Queen Bingo Controversy has consumed us. Here are the winners and losers who’ve emerged so far:
BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG WINNER: Drag Queen Bingo
Because of the uproar, the adults-only event was moved to the Historic Howell Theater, a venue that allowed for the sale of even more tickets, all of which sold out in less than the blink of an eye. No matter what happens with the Melon Festival, whether it proceeds or is canceled, Drag Queen Bingo goes on, gloriously unaffected.
COULD BE A WINNER/COULD BE A BIG, BIG LOSER:
While Meghan Reckling has shown impressive skill in using social media to crank up people, she’d better be crossing her fingers that the Melon Festival isn’t canceled.
If the worst-case scenario comes to fruition, Reckling will be forever known as the Grinch Who Stole Melon Fest; she will be the permanent scourge of downtown merchants who were counting on recouping pandemic losses during the festival weekend. And if Reckling is to run for any office in a district that includes the City of Howell, she’d better pray for a larger and her kind of family-friendly voting bloc outside of town.
BIG WINNER: Livingston County Diversity Council, Livingston Pride Alliance
These organizations are the beneficiaries of money raised by the Drag Queen Bingo event, which goes on no matter what happens with the Melon Festival. And if anyone didn’t know these wonderful organizations existed, well, they likely do now.
LOSERS: Howell’s Top Dogs
It’s never good to engage with social media assholes; it’s even worse to give in to them. Now that the cyber-jerks and cyber-bullies have discovered the power conferred upon them by Howell’s leaders, look for it to happen again.
This is the first test of strength of this configuration of city leaders — Mayor Nick Proctor, City Manager Erv Suida, Police Chief Scott Mannor — and the recent revolving door of the city manager’s office surely didn’t help.
When long-serving Police Chief George Basar retired in March 2020, he was replaced by then-Deputy Chief Scott Mannor; however, after the stable 15-year stint of City Manager Shea Charles, there appears to have been a seat-of-the-pants approach to filling the position. Charles’ surprise resignation in 2019 threw city employees and much of the community into a state of mourning. Suida was brought in from the city’s DPW on an interim basis as the search for a new manager got underway; Paul DeBuff of Kansas was hired, even though he had no city manager experience, and he lasted less than a year until he tendered a surprise and immediate resignation and blazed a trail out of town; Suida was then hired almost immediately to replace him on a permanent basis.
Proctor isn’t running for mayor again in November, which means Howell will once again have a new team heading up the city’s response to pressure; let’s hope it’s learned a lesson from this latest one.