The Madison Parks Division received its first shipment of Halloween tickets this afternoon. They arrived just in time, as the city is placing them on sale on Monday. For the subsequent 25 days, they'll be available for sale at the city parks office during weekday business hours, and on Library Mall during afternoon and evening hours, until the early morning of Sunday, Oct. 29, along with three additional locations on State Street.
A "Disclaimer & Warning" was added to the back of the tickets (with ticket #000001 visible in the gallery at right) at the request of Madison city attorney Michael May. "The purpose of the disclaimer," he says, "is to make it clear that this is not our party."
One central tenet of the city's Halloween plans, developed over the course of the summer, has been that the fencing and ticketing system does not constitute sponsorship of the event. That's the message conveyed in this disclaimer:
The Halloween event on State Street is not sponsored by the City of Madison or any other entity. No permit has been issued for this event. An admission fee is charged solely for the purpose of paying for some of the public safety costs generated by the spontaneous occurrence of this event. The City of Madison cannot and does not guarantee your safety at this event. You enter the event area at your own risk and are responsible for your own actions and safety.
This language, is now attached to new city communications regarding the Halloween event, from press releases to its Halloween portal.
"It's pretty clear evidence," says May, that "with all the people who are going to be there, we are not guaranteeing your safety. We are not acting as the prom chaperones for this event."
The city, of course, is concerned about liability. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz asked May for his legal opinion, which he issued on July 19 (and is available in PDF form at top right).
"I was asked if the city takes greater control with a fence and tickets, does that increase our potential liability," says May. "My answer was that the city taking additional steps to manage it doesn't significantly change our liability."
But according to May, the city's potential liability will grow with time: "If the city were to continue to do this year after year, at some point somebody is going to say that this has become your event." He says he can't give a definite number of years. "The point is that even with what the city is doing now, some people could argue there is additional potential liability."
And, with "every year that goes by, it makes it more difficult to say that we are not the sponsor and are simply managing an event that is without or input or control," says May. "This is my judgment looking at the common law principles."
Ultimately, the city's goal is to have a Halloween fencing and ticketing system in place for as few years as possible. "Part of the plan here is if you can change the nature of the event, you will be able to attract outside sponsors who will take over running it," May explains. "If that doesn't happen, I think the city would become to be seen as a sponsor of the event and whatever might flow from that."
Therefore, if there are more confrontations between police and revelers this year, it may be more likely that the city will take aggressive steps to curtail the festivities entirely, rather than assume increased liability.