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Council approves Festival at Sandpoint, appoints fire chief

by RACHEL SUN
Staff Writer | July 22, 2021 1:00 AM

At a meeting Wednesday, the Sandpoint City Council approved the lease of War Memorial Field for the Festival at Sandpoint.

The approval comes after months of controversy and two failed lawsuits against the summer music series and the city concerning the Festival’s weapons ban, though it was not a topic of conversation at the meeting.

Police Chief Corey Coon said he had worked with Festival staff over the past year to develop more thorough safety plans.

“Two years ago, when we had this debate, one of the concerns was the safety plan for not only those that attended the Festival, but the community members on the outside of the venue,” he said. “The past plan that we had was like four or five pages, their safety and security plan was really lacking a lot of information. So we worked hard over the last year, I think we're up to 30 to 35 pages, give or take.”

Though the city works with any entity that hosts an event on city property to ensure public safety, the Festival hires its own professional security, Coon said.

One update the city required for the Festival was improved evacuation precautions in the case of an emergency like wind or fire. Exit signs, for example, need to be flagged.

City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said despite some misconceptions, the city requires a safety plan for all major events.

“In terms of overall public safety, our special events policy does require that we have a security plan that's submitted that we sign off on,” Stapleton said. “There are about four or five iterations I think that we saw before [Coon was] comfortable with signing [off on it].”

Although police do not work security for the Festival, they will have an increased presence in the surrounding neighborhoods in part due to complaints by neighbors of attendees littering on lawns.

Also that night, council members appointed the incoming Fire Chief Gavin Gilcrease, who will be taking over operations in August.

Gilcrease comes with a unanimous recommendation from the selection committee, Stapleton said. He currently works as the assistant fire chief at the St. Johns Fire District in Johns Island, South Carolina, and is responsible for the administration of the district, which employs140 full-time employees at seven fire stations and has a $14.5 million operating budget.

The position garnered over 20 highly qualified candidates, Stapleton said. Gilcrease was among four finalists who met or exceeded preferred qualifications.

“Across the board, actually, when I heard back from the table was we're absolutely not going to hire somebody off of this [Zoom] interview. They're going to have to come out here. We got 15 minutes into the interview and it was very clear when we were hiring this candidate,” she said. “So all of the members of the hiring process were incredibly impressed with Gavin's qualifications.”

Councilmember Kate McAlister said she was also highly impressed by Gilcrease.

“I was so impressed, it was so incredible,” she said. “It was your sincerity, your experience. It was truly a pleasure.”