City cancels July 4 parade

Plans in the works for independently-sponsored procession

by Tom Coombe
Ely’s July 4 parade, which typically draws thousands of people, has been formally cancelled.
But in the wake of that decision, plans are quickly evolving for an alternative, independently-run parade, procession or patriotic demonstration on Independence Day.
Council members addressed the issue briefly at Tuesday’s regular meeting, acknowledging a recent decision by the city’s July 4 committee to pull the plug because of the coronavirus crisis.
“I would offer this, we’ve got some rules out of St. Paul that we must adhere to,” said mayor Chuck Novak.
Novak indicated that he’s also inclined to support the recommendation of the committee, which opted to join many other communities across the state in cancelling parades this year. On the Iron Range, it is believed that only Eveleth is moving forward with its parade.
“I’m not in any mood to override them,” said Novak. “I think I’m going to respect the committee.”
Yet even before Tuesday’s discussion, movement has been afoot to ensure that Ely has some sort of parade on July 4 - with an independent group offering to step in and take on coordination.
Those plans have picked up steam in the wake of the formal cancellation, and the group is studying options ranging from an appeal to the city for a city-endorsed parade along the traditional route, or other options.
The route could be a potential obstacle, given that Sheridan Street is also a state highway.
A parade using Sheridan would require permission from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and Novak contends “I’m not sure MnDOT would permit a parade such as we have on the Fourth of July.”
Last Saturday’s high school graduation “parade,” which included a police car, school bus and nearly 50 vehicles, was called a procession.
State approval would not be needed for a parade that uses city streets and avenues.
The alternative parade is in the works in response to the committee’s decision, as members, in a one-page letter that was part of the meeting packet, indicated “because of the uncertainty around what the coming months will hold for large gatherings and health and safety recommendations we have made the decision to cancel Ely’s 2020 Fourth of July Parade.”
Ely’s evening fireworks display will still on as scheduled, but it’s not clear whether the annual July 4 activities at Whiteside Park will go on or not.
Council member Al Forsman initiated the parade discussion Tuesday, saying “there’s a lot of scuttlebutt going around in the community about this and whether or not it would be even allowed if they want to move forward with their own event.”
Novak said he trusted the recommendation of the committee led by city deputy clerk Casey Velcheff, saying “they’ve put their heart and soul into this. They did a lot of research.”
Council member Heidi Omerza agreed.
“We have a committee,” she said. “We truly appreciate the hard work of that committee. If I recall, when (Velcheff) took over we had to beg, borrow and steal people (to participate). Now all of a sudden we have a group of people coming in and we d on’t know if they can get a permit? I question this council and I question the validity of this group of people.”
Forsman responded “It hurts me that there won’t be a Fourth of July parade. I know there isn’t support within this group. I would like to see it happen, but on the other hand I can see it isn’t going to.”
Ely Echo publisher Nick Wognum said Thursday a group of Ely business owners are still hoping to have some type of patriotic event on July 4.
“We understand the situation the city is in and we recognize the work that has already gone into trying to make this happen,” said Wognum. “But maybe there’s another option out there. We’ve had some preliminary discussions and we’re hoping we can find a way. There’s been several parades already, just in the past week in Ely, including for the seniors and the teachers going around town.
“I’m an optimist and if someone has an idea how to do an event like a parade, I know there’s a lot of people who would like to see that happen.”