Charities off track with Bibb County race rules

lfabian@macon.comNovember 21, 2012 

When it comes to providing security for road races, neighboring communities might be running circles around Bibb County.

Representatives from the Macon Tracks running club say policy changes with volunteers and the merger of Macon and Bibb County’s parks and recreation departments are leading to race cancellations.

The Allman Brothers Band Museum’s Big House Foundation and the Children’s Hospital at The Medical Center of Central Georgia both canceled plans for half-marathons this fall.

Last month, the Central Georgia chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure moved its race out of Macon.

“I think it’s a shame that Macon lost the Komen Race for the Cure 5K to Byron this year,” Macon Tracks secretary Kerry Oedel said in an e-mail. “That race draws in the neighborhood of 3,000 people, but the organizers got frustrated trying to get a scenic downtown course approved.”

Macon Tracks treasurer Amy Tarpley said without enough officers to provide a safe crossing on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., the Race for the Cure would have been restricted to the industrial side of road.

Besides awful scenery, the roads are not well-maintained in the industrial area and runners would cross active railroad tracks, Tarpley said in an e-mail.

Before Macon and Bibb County merged its parks and recreation in July, the city charged $25 per hour in a 3-hour minimum for off-duty police officers. Emergency Management Agency volunteers would work for free. The county provided free, on-duty deputies and REACT (Radio Emergency Associated Commmunications Teams) volunteers, Tarpley said.

The consolidated department set a uniform policy of using all off-duty officers who would be paid, they were told. Plus, state law prohibits Emergency Management Agency and REACT volunteers from placing red lights on their vehicles.

“If they can’t use the red lights, they can’t work on races,” said Lt. Sean DeFoe, acting public information officer for the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.

Without the volunteers to block intersections, Chick-fil-A was not allowed to hold its Light More Homes race after dark this month.

The race time was moved up to 4 p.m. to allow racers to finish by 6 p.m. The lighting of the Christmas display at the restaurant that used to coincide with the start had to be delayed until the race was over.

“I personally believe this cost the race because registration numbers went from 400-plus to just over 250,” Tarpley said.

DeFoe could not immediately confirm whether there was a ban on night races, or just tighter restrictions. The patrol captain who would have that knowledge was off this week, he said.

Tarpley said she has not seen an official memo banning Bibb County night races, but has been advised of the new policy over the last four months.

A voice message left at the public works department Wednesday morning was not returned.

Jami Gaudet, public information officer for the Macon Police Department, said the county was no longer doing night races due to safety issues. The city is waiting to make a decision on night races.

“My understanding is that it’s a danger issue with hundreds of runners on dark roads, lane closures and the complications that arise,” Gaudet said.

Smaller charities thinking a road race is a good way to generate cash are finding they can’t afford security.

“Most race budgets can’t support paying for an officer (deputy) at each intersection,” Tarpley said. “The Big House Museum race would have required 30 officers at $25 per hour for a 4-hour minimum.”

Oedel would have welcomed either half-marathon as Macon does not currently host a long-distance run at a time when more people are running races.

“It’s a terrific way to get people motivated to improve their fitness, especially since the 5K races are open to all ages and fitness levels, including walkers,” he said.

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