First Night Annapolis wants further negotiations with city; No agreement reached on fees for venue rental and municipal services


The recent dispute between First Night Annapolis organizers and the city over who should pay for the thousands of dollars in police overtime this New Year's Eve seemed resolved when a local software company stepped in last week with an offer of $18,000.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson expressed delight with the offer. The city council approved agreements with First Night and USinternet-working Inc. on Monday. And a spokeswoman for the Annapolis software provider said the company was happy to help.

But the contentious story surrounding the planning of this year's family-oriented New Year's Eve event in downtown Annapolis is not over, according to Janice Gary, First Night executive director.

"The permit agreement between the City and First Night Annapolis recently passed by City Council does not reflect the understanding I had with the Mayor regarding payment for certain city services," Gary said in a statement. "Therefore, FNA and the City will need to continue negotiations."

Gary would not elaborate on her statement except to say, "Everything is in a negotiating stage as far as we're concerned."

Johnson was perplexed with Gary's statement.

"I don't know why she'd be upset," Johnson said. "It's a done deal, as far as I know."

First Night's public dispute with city officials erupted three weeks ago, when the nonprofit group announced it would not use city facilities for its event this year because it could not afford the newly imposed rental and police overtime costs. For nine years, the group has organized alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebrations in the state capital, turning venues such as City Hall and county government buildings into stages for hundreds of arts performances.

For several years, the city waived charges for services such as police overtime, cleanup and trash removal. Two years ago, city officials billed First Night about $700 for trash removal. Last year, although the city shelled out $15,233 in overtime for police officers, firefighters, public works and transportation employees assigned to First Night, the organization was billed only $4,184 for police officers hired from other departments and about $1,000 for cleanup costs.

This year, the Annapolis officials' payment arrangements with First Night were altered after the city council passed an ordinance in February to charge all event organizers for use of city facilities and services. In May, First Night began negotiating a lease to rent City Hall and Susan Campbell Park near City Dock.

The agreement fizzled when Gary balked at the terms, which including charging First Night the lesser of $35,000 or 100 percent of police overtime pay, 50 percent of all other city costs incurred during the event and $1,500 for use of city premises.

Joanne Rasch, spokeswoman for USinternetworking, said Christopher R. McCleary, the firm's president, decided to donate $18,000 for the event after hearing about the stalemate. McCleary also paid the $40,000 tab for the city's July 4 fireworks.

"He has a real strong commitment to the community," Rasch said. "He saw that there was a need for this and this was something he thought was worth getting involved in."

And so city officials approved an agreement to rent Susan Campbell Park to USinternet-working on New Year's Eve for $500 and to charge the company up to $17,500 for police overtime. The council also approved a lease stipulating First Night would pay a maximum of $5,500 for 50 percent of costs for city services such as trash removal and cleanup.

Gary said she is negotiating an agreement with USinternetworking to use the park for First Night's celebration and plans to continue discussions of her group's lease with the city.

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