Frolics meeting sparks fireworks
November 2, 2016
By Katherine Keller
More than 200 people gathered at a public meeting in the South Shore Park Pavilion Wednesday, Oct. 26, hosted by Milwaukee Ald. Tony Zielinski and Milwaukee County Sup. Marina Dimitrijevic. The topic was the South Shore Frolics.
Zielinski and Dimitrijevic moderated the meeting that they characterized as one in a series of actions they would take to assess the “wishes and desires” of the public.
Over the past five years, numerous public meetings have been held by Zielinski and Dimitrijevic to address the complaints of some Bay View residents who live near South Shore Park where the annual three-day Frolics festival is held. Litter, trespassing, public drunkenness, traffic, parking, security, and fireworks noise levels have been their chief complaints.
After a short introduction by Zielinski and Dimitrijevic, who also introduced Bay View Lions members Lyn Graziano and Angela Lederhaus, the meeting was opened to comment. Attendees were asked to state whether or not they supported the Frolics. They were also asked to comment on whether or not they supported restricting the fireworks to the Friday and Saturday night festivities. However, the latter question evolved quickly to: Do you support the fireworks and do you support or oppose the portion of the fireworks finale known as Blow Up the Beach? — a series of successive explosions that increases in decibels.
The responses echoed those made by commenters at all of the previous Frolics public meetings — the Frolics are a beloved family tradition, a beloved piece of Bay View’s cultural history, and a festival that charges no admission and provides an opportunity for anyone to attend.
Elaine Bergstrom, who said she lives two blocks from the park, told the audience that three generations of her family have attended the Frolics. “This is our park. This is a family friendly festival. I love the Frolics and fireworks,” she said, adding that the festival has “grown and grown and grown” over the years. She suggested that a larger venue might be considered for future festivals, perhaps Warnimont Park, so that the Frolics can continue to grow.
Jim Wing, owner of W.B. Bottle Supply Company, who sponsors the fireworks each year, spoke of the festival as a beloved family tradition, one where he can show his children and grandchildren a “damn good time.” He said the Frolics provides his family and others’ with the opportunity to see old friends from the old days. One of the reasons he is proud to sponsor the fireworks, he said, is standing at the top of the hill after the display to listen to the people on the hill. “It doesn’t cost them a thing. I hear their response and I know it’s an amazing thing,” he said.
Another speaker said she was disappointed when she “heard the bombings” at the 2016 Frolics because she had been told that the Blow Up the Beach finale had been canceled. She said she texted her complaint to Supervisor Dimitrijevic and that Dimitrijevic responded saying she herself felt the percussions all the way to Puddlers Hall, which is near Dimitrijevic’s home. The speaker said, “I am not opposed to the Frolics, the fireworks, or family fun. I am opposed to the explosions that harm the environment.”
Cary Solberg, a member of Friends of South Shore Park, said that his organization believes the Lions have a right to use the park but that the litter generated by the Frolics was a concern, as well as debris left by the fireworks themselves.
Many said they want the Lions to bring back the Frolics Parade. In response, Lyn Graziano said they are already actively seeking funding for a parade in 2017.
Booing broke out three times in response to some opinions expressed by commenters but was quickly subdued by the moderators, with one exception. At the end of the meeting when Zielinski attempted to take a “nonbinding yes or no vote” about permitting the Blow Up the Beach for the 2017 Frolics, he indicated that he wanted the vote restricted to those who lived in his district, prompting a large number of audience members to become agitated and shout its opposition.
Unable to quell the eruption, Zielinski abruptly terminated the vote and ended the meeting.
Commenting on the vote the day after the meeting, Dave Reszel, Bay View Lions member and the group’s spokesperson, said, “All could speak in front of the audience but then not have a vote? That made no sense. …If Tony wants to get a response from just his district maybe he should do a mailing or a ballot to his district only.
“Let’s be frank, the opposition to the Frolics comes from those in the immediate neighborhood adjacent to the park, and, even then, not all of them, as we heard last night, are opposed at all to the Frolics ‘as is.’ Some like the Frolics but seek some change and some are totally opposed. So even in the adjacent neighborhood, there is a mixed bag of opinion. Beyond the immediate area, there is complete support of the Frolics. Of course we understand that those that are closest are impacted the most, but even with those impacted the most, there is still a good amount of support to have the event unchanged. That was very, very clear.”
Dimitrijevic said that the intention of the vote was to assess the disposition of attendees, not to make decisions as a result of it. She said she thought all in attendance should have been given the opportunity to vote, but that more weight assigned to those who lived in her or Zielinski’s district. She stressed that the vote was designed to gather feedback and was not intended to be binding.
By contrast, Zielinkski, also commenting the day after the meeting, insisted that the vote should have been restricted to his constituents, like those of all public meetings he holds, since he wants to represent their views when he makes decisions about city permits, in this case, the 2017 Frolics. “The meeting was held to gauge the public’s support and to make as many people as possible happy, to find common ground. But if you don’t live in the district, your vote doesn’t count. I am elected to represent my constituents’ interests, wishes, and desires.”
Reszel said he kept detailed notes of the speakers’ comments. “There was not a mandate or consensus to change any specifics. In fact, of the 25 people that spoke in front of the audience, 17 expressed a desire to leave the status quo. Even of the 8 that had ‘suggestions’ for Frolics improvement, many stated some positives regarding the Frolics. It was clear the overwhelming majority were in favor of, and support the Frolics as is.”
Dimitrijevic and Zielinski were each escorted from the meeting to their respective car by three security personnel provided by L. Johns Services. Les Johns, proprietor, said that Lyn Graziano contacted him to request security for the two officials.
Dimitrijevic and Zielinski each arrived at their car with no threat or incident, Johns said.
Johns is a member of the Bay View Lions.
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