At Chasco Fiesta parade, enforcement of bead rule surprises and angers

NEW PORT RICHEY — Nearly every year, Chasco Fiesta parade participants agree to follow a set of rules, including this one: no throwing souvenirs from the floats.

But with the crowds screaming for beads, that rule got little attention from participants or police — until this past weekend's event.

New Port Richey police stepped up enforcement of the ban, ejecting five floats that threw beads after getting warnings to stop.

The action drew criticism from participants who said the enforcement was confusing and arbitrary.

"I'm livid," said Laura Richards, office manager with New Image Dermatology, which had one of the five floats ejected from the parade. "It was just never enforced before. I had no reason to believe it was going to be enforced this year."

Members in some Tampa krewes were so peeved, they say they won't be back next year. Krewe of Shamrock, which also got booted from the parade for throwing beads, doesn't expect to return.

"We will boycott the (Chasco) parade for what happened," said Mark Stanley, president of Krewe of Shamrock. "People come to these parades for the floats and the beads."

Mayor Scott McPherson, who had fielded a dozen complaints by Monday, wants the issue put on the agenda of a work session next month. "My concern is that a lot of bad will has been generated," he said. "This is something we've got to get to the bottom of."

Police Capt. Jeff Harrington said the department had gotten its marching orders from the City Council. The council last year discussed ways to make the parade route safer in light of the 2007 death of a 9-year-old boy dragged beneath a float during the Plant City Christmas parade.

One of those measures included enforcing the ban on throwing goodies, which has been spelled out in parade applications for years. The application says that New Port Richey police — as opposed to Chasco organizers — prohibit the throwing of items from floats and vehicles.

The wording in this year's application was amended slightly so that it specified beads among the forbidden objects. The rules were also changed to say that the walkers beside the floats must be at least 16 years old if they want to hand out candy or beads.

Chasco Fiesta executive director Wendy Brenner said details of the changes were hammered out in talks with police.

"They wanted to make sure it was safe," she said. "Throwing the beads was one of the issues for the Police Department."

Brenner said the pertinent rules were underlined, and that participants should have known about them. In fact, she said, a few krewes dropped out before the parade after realizing members' young children wouldn't be old enough to pass out candy and beads.

Harrington noted that only five of roughly 150 floats were asked to leave the parade. "A vast majority were compliant," he said.

Organizers weren't totally happy with the stepped-up enforcement on bead-throwing but had to compromise, Brenner said.

"We'd just as soon have people be able to do it," Brenner said. "But we have to respect what the city wants."

The council did not take a formal vote on enforcing the ban, said City Manager Tom O'Neill, who called it a "consensus" among council members

(The issue is muddled enough that one council member, Marilynn deChant, said Monday that she believed the council had banned the practice through a new ordinance last year. The ordinance does not reflect any such changes.)

In addition to New Image Dermatology and Krewe of Shamrock, other floats and vehicles removed from the parade included Krewe of Mambi and Southern Towing, according to Harrington. Police removed a fifth float but its name could not be verified.

Stanley, with the Krewe of Shamrock, said he didn't get word until Friday that police were serious about cracking down on bead throwers. But when krewe members arrived in New Port Richey on Saturday, he said members of the Krewe of Chasco, who had a float in front of them, said it wasn't a big deal as long as they just threw underhand lobs.

"They're up there reassuring us," he said. "Obviously, there was a lot of miscommunication."

Richards, the office manager with New Image Dermatology, said this year's application read so similar to previous years' that she didn't think much of the new wording.

Nearly 20 teenagers plus about a dozen adults were either staffing the float or walking behind it. The office rented the prepared two-tiered float for $1,700 and had $1,000 worth of beads. She said plenty of parade workers saw the kids, armed with beads on the float, and said nothing.

Richards said the float was moving right along until a police officer yelled at them to get out of the parade. "He said, 'I told them (teenagers) four times,' " to stop throwing the beads.

She said she never heard the warnings over the music and noise.

"If it was an issue, why didn't he tell the adults?" she said.

Somewhere near Delaware Avenue, the float left the route. Richards said they walked the rest of the way.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

FAST FACTS

Handful of arrests

During the Chasco parade, New Port Richey police made one disorderly conduct arrest and state agents from the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco made six arrests.

After the parade, New Port Richey police officers made 19 arrests — mostly for disorderly conduct — and issued 30 city ordinance violations for open containers of alcohol.

At Chasco Fiesta parade, enforcement of bead rule surprises and angers 03/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 23, 2009 9:42pm]

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