SCHENECTADY – A dispute over safety and security is threatening a popular annual celebration of Guyanese culture.
The flap dates back to last year's Guyana Day, a free fete, where for the first time ever organizers barred festival-goers from bringing coolers into Grout Park where alcohol was available for sale.
As a result, some people partied and consumed alcohol in the parking lot adjacent to the park. There were at least two arrests for unruly behavior, said police and organizer Steve Ram.
On Monday, Ram met with police commanders, including Assistant Chief Jack Falvo, to discuss this year's event, which is slated for Sept. 1.
Ram said primarily because of the last year's problems, police are demanding that he pay $7,000 for 10 cops to provide security and handle the large crowd Guyana Day attracts. As well, authorities want the event to end two hours earlier than in years past, at 6 p.m.
"If I have to give them $7,000, I can't afford it and I would never set that event to finish at 6 o'clock because the highlight of it is between 6 and 8 when we have the live entertainers come on and perform," he said, adding that time is against him when it comes to planning the event. "It's a lot of bureaucratic nonsense that they're trying to push until we don't have Guyana Day."
He suggested extending the prohibition on coolers to the parking lot.
That would entail stopping and searching cars at the intersection of Hamburg Street and Amsterdam Avenue, which leads into the venue and parking area.
Anyone who refuses to have their vehicle searched would not be allowed in, Ram said.
Despite that idea, Ram said the meeting ended with police asking him to get back to them with an alternative plan.
He says he has none.
Falvo said it's all about safety.
Besides the loud music, police say they received complaints from homeowners around the park about public intoxication and unruly behavior.
"We've had issues over the last couple of years and so we have to make some changes to ensure people's safety and tranquility in the neighborhood," Falvo added.
The event, which attracts thousands of mostly Guyanese people, also features cricket, duck curry, traditional Guyanese games, children's activities and usually a big name entertainer.
Ram argued that part of the problem last year was that police waited too long to confront the revelers.
But Police Chief Eric Clifford on Tuesday disputed that, insisting that the agreement was that the security detail that Ram hired was responsible for seeing to it that there was no drinking in the parking lot.
Clifford described the parking lot at last year's event as an "absolute mess." The chief also conceded that the four officers at Guyana Day in 2018 were overwhelmed by the large crowd that showed up for the headlining musical group.
We're working with them (organizers) on modifying the parameters around this event," Clifford said, adding that police at Monday's meeting gave Ram a "plethora of suggestions " including potential cost-cutting measures and looking into hold the at another location in the city that might be more conducive to large crowds.
"We want there to be a Guyana Day, we just want to be able to assist them with coming up with a methodology that works for everybody, including the people that live in that neighbourhood.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy and Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said Tuesday they are hopeful that the disagreement can be resolved.
"It's been a good event and I assume it will come to some resolution of the issues," said McCarthy, who discussed the issue with Ram about a month ago.