From NewsChannel 9: UPDATE (May 24th): Despite a lawsuit, the city of Athens says their 2023 fireworks show will go on.
In a meeting at City Hall Wednesday $45,000 was proposed to fund fireworks from city budget.
Pyroshows will be putting on the show, according to the city.
The city says Athens Regional Park will be open to the public for the display, but parking will be closed off.
EARLIER (May 19th):
The 4th of July fireworks show in Athens draws a big crowd every year.
And now Athens city leaders are calling for a special meeting to discuss this year’s 4th of July celebration.
This comes after a pending lawsuit put the event on hold.
But the vice mayor tells us he’s hopeful the show will go on.
But a city resident claims he was harassed and assaulted by police and city staff at the 2022 firework show.
“We have always celebrated the 4th of July here,” says Larry Eaton.
Larry Eaton, the vice mayor of Athens, says the annual 4th of July fireworks show is a beloved family event.
“This is a time for families, for kids that are not able to get out and enjoy some of the things,” says Eaton.
But that might not happen this year, because of a lawsuit the city is facing.
“Because of some of the insurance underwriting, the city manager and the city attorney decided we could not have the fireworks,” says Eaton.
Last year the city’s celebration was billed as the largest in East Tennessee.
It celebrated both the Fourth, and the city’s Bicentennial.
But one man’s complaint, has this year’s show cancelled, at least for right now.
“Three years ago they closed the park to the citizens and they claimed it was due to COVID,” says Glenn Whiting.
Glenn Whiting, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, claims the city did not open the park to the public.
“Because there’s 1,000’s of people outside that are not allowed to come in and use the park. And so I was here to show that this is wrong,” says Whiting.
However, the event was open to city officials and employees, who were allowed to bring guests. Whiting was one of those guests.
Whiting says in his suit he wanted to videotape the event, so he could share with the public what went on.
But his lawsuit says a rumor somehow spread ahead of time that Whiting would be at the event to videotape children “for prurient purposes.”
…false statements were made to members of the Athens/McMinn County community, including but not limited to members of the Athens Police Department, members of the Athens City Council, members of the Athens Fire Department, and other Athens employees,’ the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says…
Whiting’s intent was to simply walk the park during the event in order to video record the event so that the excluded Athens citizens could know what their City employees were doing in the closed park during the event.
But, the lawsuit says former Athens City Manager Seth Sumner, former Athens Mayor Bo Perkinson and current Athens Fire Chief Brandon Ainsworth encouraged city employees to ‘harass, intimidate, threaten and assault’ Whiting when he showed up at the event, saying he intended to videotape children.
When Whiting arrived at Athens Regional Park with his invitation with his camera rolling.
The lawsuit says the video reveals
…numerous City employees, and their family members, repeatedly harassing, threatening, assaulting, impeding, and cursing plaintiff Whiting. Included in said harassment are accusations that Whiting was attempting to videotape children, accusations that Whiting is a “pervert,” accusations that Whiting was violating the law, and threats of violence against Whiting.
The city says they are trying to work out the problems.
“The lawsuit will probably be something I can’t really talk about,” says Eaton.
But Eaton is hopeful of a positive outcome.
“I do believe that the city council will do the right thing for the citizens of Athens, Tennessee and our county and surrounding areas. I do believe that we will be having fireworks,” says Eaton.
Eaton talked about the meeting being held next week and says it’s open to public. He encourages people to go and listen as they try to resolve this.
The meeting will be at City Hall on Wednesday at 6 p.m.