By Jessica Mathews /

Despite a controversial Drag Queen Bingo event being moved to a new location, those who remain opposed to it being held in the community continued to voice their concerns to the Howell City Council.

The event was originally scheduled in conjunction with Melon Festival activities by the Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority (HAPRA) on the evening of August 14th in the festival beer tent. The sold-out, adults-only event has since been moved to the Historic Howell Theater, which is privately owned.

At Monday night’s Council meeting, a handful of residents - none of whom live in the City - spoke in opposition of the event and called for it to be shut down. Many again asserted it doesn’t fit with the family-friendly theme while others were critical of the process and questioned what repercussions organizers would face, with one calling for “heads to roll”. Others questioned a liquor license for the event, but it was clarified that the license approved was for the festival tent, not the bingo event as it is private property.

Resident Dan Brockway defended Council and City, saying that if many of those who spoke had attended a previous council meeting, they wouldn’t have had so much misinformation and the City has done an amazing job dealing with the situation.

Many in the audience were disruptive during the Call to the Public and Mayor Nick Proctor cautioned that people needed to be civil or they could be removed. Proctor reiterated that Melonfest is not a city event and thus comments should be directed to HAPRA or other municipalities that comprise the Authority.

Proctor stated the problem for Council was that neither staff nor the HAPRA board was informed of the event, stressing that while they embrace diversity, timing and location were the setbacks. He said social media lit up about the event and fingers were pointed at the City, which didn’t know anything about it. Proctor said there were some assumptions made that events would be generally family orientated and the direction wasn’t appropriate in many people’s minds but others might disagree and there are differences of opinion.

Proctor added they are now reviewing the City’s civic event application process to be more specific and staff is working on suggested changes that will be brought to the Council.

City Manager Erv Suida commented they have begun that process and are going through applications in eight other communities to see if there’s anything related to age-restricted entertainment and anything the City could incorporate. So far, he said they haven’t found much but are looking into it along with other ways they can revise the City application.

Some comments were based on misinformation related to the liquor license for the beer tent at the larger Melonfest event, which was approved at a recent special meeting of the HAPRA board. It is for the tent only, not the bingo event. The event advertises two drink tickets but some clarification was offered from staff that it likely includes two drink tickets for the tent, not the theater venue which doesn’t have any liquor license.

Councilwoman Jeannette Ambrose is the liaison on the HAPRA board and reported that there were around 15 passionate people who spoke at the HAPRA meeting on both sides of the issue. She noted the meeting was called to approve the license but it was generic to the festival and there were no details given or paperwork provided. Ambrose said she found out after the meeting that the approval was still proposed for the festival tent and it was moved after the fact.