By Jessica Mathews & Jon King /

A drag queen bingo show will go on but Howell City Council members expressed their displeasure with the process that led to its creation.

During Monday night’s meeting, it was stated that a “Drag Queen Bingo” event scheduled on Saturday, August 14th in conjunction with the Howell Melon Festival was a decision unilaterally made by Howell Area Parks & Recreation Authority staff and there was never any communication with the city, staff, council or even the HAPRA board. The City issued a press release last Friday regarding community concerns about the sold-out event, which is not being canceled but it’s possible that it could be moved to another location.

Mayor Nick Proctor and others affirmed their support for diversity and inclusion but stated no one was made aware of the event until they noticed advertisements and social media lit up. Proctor said the Melonfest event application approved recently by Council made no mention of it and noted the listed time frame occurring from 9:30 to 11:30pm was in conflict with the agreement that activities must conclude by 10pm.

Proctor commented further that he could only draw the conclusion that the City was intentionally left in the dark and kept at a distance to make some kind of social statement. "Let me be perfectly clear. There is no backlash regarding drag bingo coming from this building. And let me be perfectly clear, the backlash I'm providing tonight is based on process, lack of transparency, lack of consultation and collaboration, along with deliberate, in my opinion, deliberate deceit."

HAPRA Festival/Events Manager Amelia Purdy-Ketchum told Council there was no political agenda or intent to pull anything over on anyone or make the City look bad. She commented that they’re working to make the community more inclusive and welcoming for everyone and they were dealing with a short timeline with the company. Purdy-Ketchum said the event was added late to the schedule and she had intended to request to change the time frame but was out of town and didn’t have time before issues came up and never anticipated this reaction.

Purdy-Ketchum also pushed back against the claims by Proctor and other city officials that their opposition was strictly based on the process. "There aren't really any valid reasons why this event can't take place. Any attempt to explain it away is thinly veiled hate and discrimination. Your response to this situation is a reflection of your values. If you value an open-minded community that supports all of its residents, you will openly speak out in support of our organization and the event. If you want to keep Howell in the Stone Age and continue to bow to the pressures of the curmudgeons, go ahead."

Purdy-Ketchum stated it was Livingston County Republican Party Chair Meghan Reckling who started the uproar and is now backpedaling on the issue, which Mayor Nick Proctor disagreed with and stated he thought expressions of concern would have happened anyway. Reckling posted on Facebook last week that it was “disappointing” to see the event happening in Livingston County and that Melon Fest is supposed to be a family-friendly event and not one that should be “sexualized.” The post further encouraged people to contact HAPRA.

Mayor Proctor, however, was clear in his opinion of where the fault lay for the controversy. "It is simply amazing to me, amazing, that the HAPRA staff unilaterally creates this drama and then after legitimate community concerns emerge, deflects and encourages people to come to city hall and communicate with this council and staff to express their support when we weren't even afforded the courtesy of a discussion. Simply friggin' astounding."

It was noted that Council and staff received a lot of correspondence from community members on both sides of the issue and several council members felt it might have been more appropriate as a standalone event or to coincide with the recent Pride Month celebration downtown. It was also stated City staff is always available and issues could have easily been ironed out in advance.

While many members stated they’re not opposed to the event, they then went on to question its location and timing being held in conjunction with a family-oriented event like Melonfest. Others have pointed to past events held in the festival's beer tent including fights amid heavy drinking and that no one complained about that conflicted with the nature of the event.

Councilman Randy Greene said being the minority he wouldn’t make any motion but personally felt the show should have been canceled and didn’t feel anything that advertised raunchy content fit with a city-sponsored event.

The HAPRA board has a special meeting scheduled this Wednesday to potentially approve the liquor license for the Melonfest tent but the City attorney cautioned that there are limitations as to what can be discussed in such scenarios by law. The next regularly scheduled meeting is August 17th.

The City press release and a statement released by HAPRA Director Tim Church are attached.