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Havre de Grace leaders heap praise on Independence Day Commission

Havre de Grace city leaders heaped praise on city police, public works employees, city staff, volunteers and the members of the new Independence Day Commission for pulling off a stellar celebration Sunday.

"My thanks to the Independence Day Commission couldn't be any more sincere or any deeper," Mayor Bill Martin said during Monday night's City Council, where commission members received a standing ovation from Martin and the six council members.

The freshman commission, made up of volunteers appointed by the mayor with council approval, took over coordinating this year's celebration after the members of the former nonprofit Havre de Grace Independence Celebration Committee resigned last summer.

Martin praised the commission Monday for persevering in spite of criticism from some city residents who supported the former committee.

"To say that the whole event is under new management is an understatement," he said.

The former committee was independent of the city government, although members worked closely with city officials to put on the events, including a downtown parade, carnival and fireworks show.

The new commission is under the umbrella of city government, although it has the option to become a nonprofit entity. The commission members coordinated this year's celebration, which included the traditional parade along Union Avenue, a downtown block party on Washington Street, a concert headlined by The Amish Outlaws at Hutchins Park — both events were new this year — and fireworks shot from a barge in the Susquehanna River rather than the traditional spot of Tydings Island.

They could not secure an operator to handle the carnival for the week of Independence Day, so the commission is planning one for the week of Labor Day in September.

Councilwoman Monica Worrell, the council's liaison to the commission, described the members as a "strong-minded, independent-thinking group of volunteers," who "by no means did the mayor and council's bidding."

The events, including The Amish Outlaws concert, were a hit with visitors Sunday. Some people noted the concert, which they praised for being family friendly, was a better alternative to the carnival.

The carnival has been popular for many years, but it has also been an issue of concern for city officials and the police department, which tried to work with the former committee to improve safety.

"Thanks to mayor and council for having the courage and the fortitude to make those changes that we felt were necessary," Police Chief Teresa Walter said.

She told commission members: "You all did an outstanding job."

The chief said the sworn officers, civilian employees and dispatchers with her department "just did a phenomenal job."

Walter praised the city's volunteer fire and EMS companies — the Susquehanna Hose Company and the Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps — for their support, and she thanked the municipal, county and state law enforcement and emergency services agencies who helped provide security and communications.

"Many citizens told me they felt safe, and they felt protected because the Havre de Grace Police Department had a game plan," the mayor said.

Martin also thanked DPW staff for their hard work in keeping the city clean Sunday and ensuring the events ran smoothly, and he praised City Hall staff and department heads for working with the commission during the nearly year-long planning process.

"It all came down to an eight-hour day," he said of the festivities.

Christy Silverstein, the commission chair, and Taryn Martin, the parade chair and Mayor Martin's wife, thanked the police and DPW for their support, their "A-team" of volunteers and the city leaders.

"Most of all, we want to thank you, Mr. Mayor, and the council for believing in us," an emotional Silvertsein said. "If you believe in us enough, I guess we'll come back and do it in 2018."

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