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(January 7, 2003 // link)

Gathering of Angels: There is a reason why the Hells Angels have apparently chosen Laconia New Hampshire as the site for a worldwide annual gathering of Hells Angels. This is not a random selection.

The obvious assumption on the part of the world wide leadership of the Hells Angels must be that, not only are Laconia and the rest of the lakes region a naturally beautiful place to vacation but we must also be perceived as receptive to this type of event. This perception must be, at least in part, based on our bike week activities.

What concerns me most is the question of who will assume responsibility for the cost of this event. The current Race and Rally organization assumes no responsibility or from their perspective, liability, for bike week. It is the city and the surrounding towns that bear the cost of the current event with little or no direct benefit to the majority of the inhabitants. Will the Hells Angels be responsible for the cost of extra police protection? Parks and Rec. personnel? How about Public Works?

These are precisely the issues that we need to be addressing with our current bike week and, with this new event the problem should be easy to address. If the Hells Angels want to have their event here, they should seek and obtain the required permits. They should address the questions above and the myriad other questions that will inevitably arise in the planning and permitting process. If they cannot address the legitimate public safety and liability concerns presented by such a gathering, it should not happen. If they can address these concerns, it should. It should because there needs to be a presumption that Laconia was chosen as a destination for this event for all the right reasons including the fact that it is such a fabulous destination.

Somehow I doubt that the Lakes Region is being considered for this “gathering of angels” because it is such a great family vacation spot. The Lakes Region must be viewed by the Angels organization as favorable, from at least a business and social perspective, to this type of event. I cannot help but think that such a perception cannot be helpful to our overall efforts at supporting year round tourism activities. True, the dollars that a few select individuals will earn from this event can be considered “tourism dollars.” However, the negative connotations and attendant stigma to the region are long term effects that hurt all of us.

Our wider dilemma lies in perception. There is an obvious association between Laconia and its current Bike Week activities and its perceived desirability for such gatherings. This is all the more reason to get a handle on the Bike Week event to ensure that the interests of all of the citizens of the city are protected, and that all voices will be heard. We need to move forward with a citizens committee on the event, and we need to create a forum where all citizens are comfortable in discussing this issue. The City of Laconia has taken steps to form such a committee and other Lakes Region communities need to do so as well. Most important, we need to decide how we want our communities in the Lakes Region to be perceived. This type of event does not only impact Laconia, but the entire region.

If the communities of the Lakes Region decide that they want to be perceived as enticing to this type of gathering, so be it. If, however, there is a different perception or image that we are after, than there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of the citizens of the region and their elected officials to project the desired image. We are at a crossroads and the time to speak out is now. Call or write to your selectmen, counselors or representatives. The voices of those who like the event the way it is have been heard already.

Once again, and for the record, I do not advocate eliminating or even necessarily shortening Bike Week. I do support some entity, even if it falls to the cities and towns, bearing responsibility for operation, management and promotion of the event. I also support addressing the wishes of the citizens, businesses and taxpayers who do not directly benefit from Bike week in any plan for the future of the event. I am immediately suspicious of anyone who fears discussion on the topic because if an idea cannot stand public discussion and scrutiny, it may just be a bad idea.

Apparently the people who say they want change in the event have not spoken loudly or clearly enough to be heard. Or perhaps they have only spoken amongst themselves. If either is the case, this must change because they will next be saying: “…and much to my surprise, a gathering of angels appeared before my eyes.”


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