April 25, 2011
City, college want lid on Monroe Fest
Violence last year leads officials to ban parties on Monroe Heights
Monroe Fest parties on Monroe Heights were officially banned this spring by Cortland city police and SUNY Cortland officials, but some students say they plan to have a good time anyway.
Planned for this Saturday to coincide with the college’s Spring Fling concert, Monroe Fest has grown too large and in recent years resembled the annual Cortaca Jug weekend and now-banned Clayton Avenue block parties, officials said when outlawing the event.
Police are concerned about focusing patrols too heavily in one place for disorderly crowds and drinking laws enforcement in an unsanctioned event.
“We know what Clayton Avenue turned into and ... we can’t have an unsanctioned block party going on,” Cortland Police Chief F. Michael Catalano said. “We’re trying to avoid the extra number people in one location (Monroe Heights), that keeps us from effectively dealing with the rest of the city.”
Last year, two groups of students wrapping up Monroe Fest block parties got into a fight near Clayton Avenue and one student was stabbed with a switchblade, officials said. Several students were arrested.
But students say the party day is a tradition and shutting it down is unfair. They think the college should instead try to manage it, as other colleges manage their student spring celebrations.
“We like the police and we don’t want to make trouble for them,” said junior Scott Gilberti, who shares a house of three apartments with nine other male students. “But we signed up for this house because of Monroe Fest.”
He said patrol officers who speak with students on the street “have been very understanding, they know it (the party day) was traditional.”
Catalano sent a letter on March 18 to all SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College students who live on Monroe Heights, saying police will enforce the “nuisance party” ordinance, which carries stiffer fines and broader arrest powers than the “loud party” ordinance.
Students are not forbidden from holding parties altogether, but Catalano said police will watch out for noise, large and disorderly crowds spilling into the street, or anything else that focuses officer attention too much in one place.
Violation of the ordinance can result in a fine of up to $500 or up to 15 days of imprisonment in County Jail, or a civil penalty of up to $500 for each offense.
Students might also face penalties by the college if they are arrested, officials said.
Police will also enforce laws against serving alcoholic beverages to people under age 21, Catalano said. Serving alcohol to a minor is a misdemeanor.
Police still plan extra weekend patrols for streets around campus, but not specifically for Monroe Heights.
College President Erik Bitterbaum told students in an e-mail that they need to respect the community and people’s property.
Senior Josh Tinder, who lives in a different apartment in the same house as Gilberti, said Monroe Fest had few problems beyond open container violations until last year’s stabbing. He said when students test the limits of police authority, police react.
“This party day is like a liberty to have,” Tinder said. “I can’t have a block party on my own lawn? I know we’re guests in this town but I kind of feel like it’s home too.”
Tinder said he has friends coming to town for whatever his house ends up doing.
Mike Holland, assistant to SUNY Cortland’s vice president for student affairs, said Monroe Fest presents too many liability issues, costs too much in overtime for city police at a time when budgets are being cut, and presents a poor image for the college.The fight and stabbing last April forced the college to pay even more attention, he added.
Holland said some students erroneously believe the college even helps sponsor Monroe Fest.
SUNY Cortland’s student newspaper carried an article recently that said Monroe Fest had a positive impact on nearby neighborhoods where more year-round residents live, as students purchased lemonade from children at a lemonade stand.
“Students came staggering up, drunk, and bought lemonade,” Holland said. “Neighbors were concerned about this image of what college is all about.”
A photograph posted online showing students sitting on a roof revealed liability and safety issues with Monroe Fest, Holland added.
Catalano stressed that banning Monroe Fest this year had nothing to do with University at Albany students rioting during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in March, causing more than $20,000 in damaged property.
Catalano said police and SUNY Cortland officials decided early this year to ban Monroe Fest because of its past problems.
Holland said the college’s Scholars’ Day has been held without classes for several years so students can attend research presentations, but it has turned into a day of partying, so classes will be held that day next year.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe