Meeting in an emergency session Wednesday morning, the Fayette County Commission indicated its unanimous intention to cast a vote to cancel Bridge Day when the matter came before the Bridge Day Commission on Wednesday afternoon.
The county commission also designated Commissioner John Brenemen to serve as the proxy for Commissioner Allison Rae Taylor, the normal representative, at Wednesday's BDC meeting, since Taylor was going to be on a flight which had been planned prior to last week's motion for a second Bridge Day Commission vote on staging the 2021 event. On Sept. 15, the BDC voted 4-2 against a motion to cancel the Oct. 16 event.
The Fayette County Commission has one of the six official votes on the Bridge Day Commission, which is organized according to state code.
Citing uncertainties along several fronts, BASE jumpers announced last week they were pulling out of this year's Bridge Day. On the agenda for the Bridge Day Commission meeting Wednesday afternoon at Fayetteville Town Hall was an item to "revisit discussion and vote on Bridge Day 2021."
After discussing the matter in executive session, county commissioners reconvened their morning meeting and indicated their vote preference to cancel Bridge Day when the matter came before the larger Bridge Day Commission. A press release drafted by the county commission for dissemination to the public and read by Brenemen at the end of the Wednesday morning meeting included portions that floated the notion that BASE jumpers pulled out of the event last week because the coordinator was influenced by "a small group of individuals" providing misleading information.
During the afternoon BDC meeting, Mark Kissner — one of the BASE coordinators — took exception to that premise.
"I figured I should say something just because we were sort of mentioned in this (county commission's) press release that somehow we were influenced," said Kissner. "I think anybody that's been around Bridge Day for any period of time knows that BASE jumpers are fairly hard-headed and strong-willed."
The decision to not jump this year was made on behalf of and with influence from "hundreds of jumpers who wanted to come; that, of course, included us," he said. "This was hardly a decision that we wanted to make.
"It certainly wasn't done under duress or under the influence of anybody on the commission. We looked at the situation for what it was, looked at the constituents and the community and saw what they wanted and, based on all of that, we made that decision independently. ... No, we did that of our own free will."
At the end of the afternoon meeting, BDC chairman Becky Sullivan asked FCC's Taylor if she wanted to address concerns expressed about the county commission's press release.
"I didn't hear all of the concerns," Taylor responded, "but we will be having hearings at the (county) commission chambers on this, so they can re-address those concerns (then). I don't want to get in a free-for-all right now.
"But I will tell you that it (the commission's press release) was based on facts that I'm aware of, and I do believe the BASE jumpers were not fully advised of all of the offers from the state and others to help us with this situation, and that's where I'm going to leave it."
Another BASE coordinator, Marcus Ellison, told Taylor, "Well, you're wrong."
In response to Ellison, Taylor said, "Well, you don't know. Marcus, I've had enough of you. Do you have anything productive to say?"
The county commission's full statement released Wednesday morning was as follows:
"It is with great regret the Fayette County commissioners inform the public we have decided unanimously to exercise our vote at the Bridge Day Commission meeting later today to effectively cancel Bridge Day 2021. We did not make this decision lightly. There have been many theories about why this issue is up for another vote only two weeks after the Bridge Day Commission voted 4-2 in favor of proceeding with Bridge Day this year, and we would like to set the record straight.
"It is not because the county's Covid numbers are getting worse since the Bridge Day Commission voted to proceed with Bridge Day two weeks ago, because they are improving.
"It is not because the county could not provide for the safety of the BASE jumpers or Bridge Day attendees and participants, because the state and the Summit Bechtel Reserve were prepared to provide resources to accommodate the needs of any additional sick or injured.
"It is not because the local hospitals asked the county or the Bridge Day Commission to cancel the event, because it did not.
"It is not because there were not enough bus drivers to transport guests or participants to events, because the State Department of Education was prepared to assist the Bridge Day Commission with recruiting volunteer bus drivers from other counties to assist.
"It was not because the National Park Service refused to issue a permit due to any of these issues, because it granted the permit and only required a mask mandate to enter the venue.
"It is not because anything changed for the worse since the Bridge Day Commission voted to proceed with Bridge Day, because nothing has.
"It is because a small group of individuals decided it knew better than your elected federal, state and county officials and acted to influence the coordinator of Bridge Day's main event, BASE jumping, to cancel its participation in Bridge Day. They did this by misleading him to believe the jumpers he represents would not have the support they required to efficiently reach the jump site or have access to medical care should they suffer an injury. This small group knew the BASE jumper withdrawal would likely result in the cancellation of Bridge Day — and, they were right.
"As you all know, BASE jumping is the main event at Bridge Day, and without it, Bridge Day would not be the same. Your county commissioners believe the nation's newest national park deserves to be celebrated with the full glory of Bridge Days past. Under the current circumstances, we do not believe that possible.
"That said, your Fayette County commissioners will act promptly to implement changes to the Bridge Day Commission bylaws and take all necessary action to ensure in the future no individual or small group has the power to unilaterally influence a decision that affects not just Fayette County, but also Bridge Day attendees and participants, neighboring counties, the State of West Virginia and the National Park Service. We join you in your disappointment over this news and look forward to seeing you at Bridge Day 2022."
During the Bridge Day Commission meeting, attendee Eric Autenreith urged that group to be "thoughtful in addressing any effort to change by-laws" that may hamper "what appears to be a fairly fair, equitable process."
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