hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

August 21, 2013

City's willingness to work with theater group refreshing


The Haverhill Gazette

---- — Who says you can’t fight City Hall?

A local group did and won — or at least convinced the city to change its rules about renting the City Hall auditorium.

And because an agreement was reached, the show will go on, as they say. (See story, Page 1.)

Spotlight Playhouse is a Haverhill-based nonprofit community theater company which rehearses and performs exclusively in the city. The group could not afford the $5,500 fee Haverhill charges to rent the hall for performances.

The fee has risen lately, due to various rules, including that a police officer and firefighter be paid by the renter to be at events for safety reasons. There was also a requirement that the renter hire a custodian to be in the building during performances.

After talks with the theater group, city officials decided to require only that a police office or firefighter to be hired, not both, and that a custodian be hired only when one was not working a regular shift in the building, such as on weekends.

Those changes made renting the hall affordable and showed the city is willing to discuss such matters, rather than holding hard and fast to its rules.

“What this showed is that the changes we made to the rules for the auditorium worked, such as allowing the public safety commissioner to waive the police or fire details,” Mayor James Fiorentini told reporter Shawn Regan.

The City Council did its part to shave the cost, voting to reduce the general fee for renting the auditorium by $250, the largest reduction allowed under a city ordinance.

Fiorentini said the possibility exists that the theater group can further reduce or even eliminate any public safety charges if it can find a police officer or firefighter willing to staff the shows for free.

Scott Helmers is president of the theater company, which plans five performances of “Lend Me a Tenor” for the auditorium. He praised the willingness of city officials to work with his group.

“We are very pleased with all the help the city gave us to make this work,” Helmers said. “We received excellent cooperation from the mayor’s office, (police) Chief (Alan) DeNaro and of course the City Council, which was heavily on our side from the beginning.”

What this showed, in the end, is that there were really no sides at all, simply one community willing to work out some kinks for the benefit of everyone involved.

In this case, government worked the way it should.