NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — In a bit of political retribution for Narragansett Town Council members Jesse Pugh and Patrick Murray, the council has bypassed a rule put in place by the previous council requiring organizers of for-profit road race events in town to put up a $10,000 minimum donation.
Pugh, the council president, and Murray were in the minority in March when the previous council voted 3-2 to impose the new policy that stipulated that for-profit events such as road races, walk-a-thons and bike rallies must contribute at least $10,000 to a local charity.
The policy became effective upon approval and also applied retroactively to road races already approved for 2020 before the policy was in place.
That became a problem for Ocean State Rhode Races, which had received approval in January to hold its annual 5K and half marathon in October.
“The thing is, (the policy) was retroactive. It then made a race that was already approved without conditions conditional,” Pugh said.
The new council unanimously approved a waiver for Ocean State Rhode Races to forgo the payment on Dec. 7. Then the council did away with the policy in a unanimous vote.
The business requested the waiver and cited the prior unconditional approval and lower turnout for the October event because of COVID-19.
“We have been doing this race for six years in Narragansett,” Rhode Races & Events owner Karen Zyons said. “We found it kind of punitive.”
The October race was the only event Rhode Races & Events held this year and attracted a little more than 400 participants, Zyons said. Typically their events attract 800 or more, she said.
“So a $10,000 donation would be a real hardship, especially in a year when we didn’t have any income,” she said. “We’re a small, women-owned company and $10,000 is a lot to us.”
The race company also pays for all police and fire/EMS details, she added, and uses volunteers who receive a stipend.
Rhode Races & Events also made donations of several thousand dollars this year to Narragansett High School’s girls soccer and lacrosse and a youth track program, she said.
Murray said he thinks asking a percentage, such as 10 percent, of each company would be better.
Steven Wright, Parks & Recreation director, said that in 2013-14, 22 races or similar events were held in Narragansett.
“That’s when the council struggled with complaints from residents having trouble getting in and out of their driveways,” he said.
The town instituted a moratorium allowing 10 races between May and October. Five of those races have dropped out, leaving just two for-profit races, Wright said.
“The last two standing for-profit races are Gray Matter Marketing and Rhode Races & Events,” he said. “They’re both in October.”
Gray Matter typically gives the local historical society an annual $10,000 donation, Wright said.
“I think back in 2019 they even provided $11,000,” he said.
The Recreation Advisory Board used this information to craft a $10,000 requirement, he said.
Following up on its action earlier this month, the council on Monday unanimously approved the application by Rhode Races & Events to hold its next annual 5K and half marathon on Oct. 24, 2021 – no donation required.