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Genesee County officials weigh in about ReAwaken tour: traffic biggest concern

By Joanne Beck

Despite the calls of alarm for a scheduled ReAwaken America visit next month, Genesee County officials are hopeful, or at least reassured by the Sheriff’s Office, that the concern may be for naught.

The Batavian asked legislators for comment, and the Sheriff’s Office for a security plan, regarding the impending and irrefutably controversial tour that’s making its way to several states, including Batavia, New York.

“We’ve received a few complaints,” Legislator Gary Maha said after Wednesday's Legislature meeting. “We have no authority to stop it from coming to the church. We have spoken to the sheriff to make sure he’s aware, and that extra time is taken to make sure that the public is safe.”

County Manager Matt Landers said that of the people that reached out to him directly, the majority were on the “con side” of the pro-con issues expressing their concerns.

“However, after speaking with the sheriff, he has had one of his chief deputies, I believe, doing the investigation, speaking to other communities that have hosted these events. And I've been pleased to find out that there have not been any reported issues of the magnitude of the concerns that have been raised to me,” Landers said. “The concerns have been about the element that comes into our community, as far as any kind of disruptions, any kind of fights, any kind of lawlessness. None of those have occurred in the research done by the sheriff's office, which was heartening to me.”

Legislature Chairwoman Shelley Stein had but four words after Landers' response: "He took my words."

Brian Frieday, chief deputy on road patrol for the Sheriff’s Office, said that he has been in contact with Pastor Paul Doyle of Cornerstone Church, who agreed to host the tour, and Frieday expects additional discussions “regarding security and what is expected there.”

“Any information we receive will go toward planning for our potential presence in the area,” Frieday said.  “We have reached out to other jurisdictions that the event was held in and have had no reports of any confrontations or violence.” 

While that information has provided some relief for Landers, the actual basis of the tour is another thing altogether.

“As far as the content that goes out of the church like that, there’s freedom of speech, and the government can't take a position,” he said. “Personally, as a citizen, I'm not a fan of the rhetoric that comes out of an event like that. But as a county, the position that we're taking is that the free speech issue that they are entitled to, we have our local law enforcement … ensuring everything is gonna go smoothly, and I have all the confidence in the world that everything will go smoothly.”

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg wasn’t even certain what “reawaken even means,” she said. She does have faith in the people of Genesee County to act responsibly.

“This county tends to be very peaceful and tolerant of one another,” Clattenburg said. “Hopefully it goes off smoothly and they have their peaceful assembly.”

She, Maha, and Legislator John Deleo wondered if there would be a traffic issue, considering the possible volume of people from other counties attending the two-day event. The tour was originally scheduled in Rochester until the venue operator backed out due to protests and heavy pressure not to host — and thereby approve of — the event in Monroe County.

One potential scenario is that, in addition to those from Genesee County, flocks of other people from out of the county may also attend. It wouldn’t be the first time that parking was tight at Cornerstone, as last year’s tent meetings required extra security, traffic guards, parking up and down Bank Street Road, and an extra parking lot across the street at Batavia Soccer Park.

Maha and Clattenburg said that the soccer park would not be an option this year.

Legislator Brooks Hawley said that he has received “one email and one phone call,” and was going to respond to them Thursday. The event is at a church, and that means “it’s not really under our control,” he said.

Chad Klotzbach and fellow Legislator Gordon Dibble had little to say about the event as county officials. They didn’t feel it was in their jurisdiction to offer comment, and Dibble added that “I don't know enough about it to really give an educated comment.”

The tour is set for August 16 and 17 at Cornerstone Church, 8020 Bank Street Road, Batavia.

Photo by Lisa Casey of Genesee County legislators at Genesee County Fair this week.

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