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Grant Holtmeier and Mike Cotyk walk down High Street during High Fest. 

Ohio University student petitions for closed streets during fests

A new petition has proposed the closing of High Street and Palmer Street for the upcoming fests.

Several members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity were inspired to start a petition after Athens City Councilman Pat McGee gave a speech about safety during fest season.

That petition proposed the closing of High Street and Palmer Street for the upcoming fests. As of press time, more than 1,400 people have signed the online petition, which has a goal of 1,500 signatures.

“He talks to us every year about safety during fests and what to do if a cop confronts you,” Nicholas Felt, a sophomore studying political science—prelaw and the recording industry, said. “The normal like 'yadda yadda' for fest season.”

McGee, who is also the managing attorney for Ohio University’s Center for Student Legal Services, had campaigned for student rights before being elected and said a petition would be a good way for him to be a voice for students on city council.

Felt said there is no common ground between the police and the partygoers, and he wants to change that.

He added that despite emails and reminders from members of OU's administration and the police, there is not a direct conversation between students and police, which inhibits students’ political voices.

“I want to see a direct coordination of these activities between police, or the city, and students,” Felt said. “I feel like it’s just ridiculous to me that these huge events can go on with no direct facilitation. That’s just incredible.”

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said it would not be any safer for the streets to be closed, and the city would assume a higher level of liability for the activities held on the streets that host fests.

“I’m not saying that students at a block party couldn’t self-police, but when we see what goes on during ... all the different fests ... that’s an unusually high-risk liability issue,” Patterson said. “And it’s basically the city saying, ‘Yep, we sanction everyone partying ‘til they drop on the city streets.’ ”

Kirsten Ybarra, a freshman studying anthropology, said closing High Street and Palmer Street is a good idea, and it would make everyone safer.

According to a previous Post report, the local police departments spend $80,000 every year on overtime for fests.

“Money is always a tricky subject because it depends on where they’re getting the money from,” Allison Cook, a freshman studying journalism, said. “I think that if you’re going to want to do this, then maybe someone needs to donate for the petition.”

Felt said he doesn’t believe closing the streets would change the amount of money spent on overtime.

“If anything, it might decrease a little bit because there won’t be as many police officers,” Felt said. “The petition and the officer’s budget don’t really have any correlation. I’m not really touching upon that in the petition at all.”

When asked if he believed that closing the streets will foster more underage drinking, Felt said he had no comment on underage drinking, because it was another problem in itself. 

He said the closing of these streets would create an atmosphere similar to Number Fest, where police patrol throughout the party instead of trying to catch the one person that slips "into the lava."

“It just goes from more of a ‘they’re partying over at that location’ to ‘the party is everywhere,' ” Felt said. 

Ybarra said an OU police officer had come into her sociology class and told them that the police do not typically catch underage drinkers, and they just want to make sure students are safe.

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“If we are doing something bad, like if we are getting into fights and obviously drunk, then they are going to be like, ‘Okay, well you’re underage,’ but all they want to do is just make sure we are safe,” she said.

Patterson said he had doubts about closing the street for that long of a time period. 

“So is that to turn — say Palmer Fest — into an eight-hour party?” Patterson said. “We can’t confuse the semantics of a parade with a party. It’s two completely different things. A parade permit cannot be used to sanction a block party.”

— Kaitlin Fochesato contributed to this report.

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mh912314@ohio.edu

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