Our Voice: Parents, services important part of safety at fair

Farm Forum

If you were to go up to a person at the supermarket or at the movies and ask them, “Should sex offenders be allowed to attend the Brown County Fair?” we expect you would get a lot of “absolutely nots,” whether the person had ever entertained the notion before or not.

Brown County State’s Attorney Larry Lovrien’s heart is in the right place when he suggests Brown County commissioners ban sex offenders from the Brown County Fair in August. This would be accomplished by designating the fairgrounds as a public park or playground for the week of the fair. Lovrien is thinking of the safety and security of fair-goers.

On first blush, it makes perfect sense.

Give it a little more consideration, however, and it’s clear that this is really not the best way to keep kids and families safe and could place an undo hardship on the fair and the county.

First, there is keeping registered sex offenders out of the fairgrounds. Some local offenders are easier to keep track of than others. Tougher still would be all the fair workers — the midway operators, food vendors, entertainment support — who come from all over the country and aren’t necessarily available to be verified by the sheriff’s office.

The burden likely would fall onto the county and fair organizers to allow for the background checks and screening of all those coming to work at the fair. That is an additional stress beyond just running the fair and considering all the safety aspects for real dangers — injuries, accidents and illnesses at the fairgrounds.

Fair organizers also might find that the options for amusement are suddenly limited.

The sex offender registry spans all kinds of ages, races, economic backgrounds and crimes. There are those who have done some heinous crimes; there are also a few college kids who have been busted for urinating in public or had consenting relationships with high school classmates who weren’t the same age.

It’s impossible to scrub the world clean of people who are on this list. Others can be tried and convicted and do their time, but sex offenders will spend their lives on a list that precludes them from some jobs, homes, neighborhoods and activities.

And it is impossible to completely limit the dangers posed by someone intent on doing harm.

Even banning those folks from the fair, and giving them mandatory meetings to attend during fair time, will not keep kids 100 percent safe.

If safety is a concern at the fair, we think parents, law enforcement and fair officials should be proactive in other sensible ways of making the fair a less dangerous place.

More visible patrols during the fair — especially during prime midway time. More booths set up or designated as “safe zones,” a la fire and police stations, available when kids need a friendly adult fast. Pamphlets with phone numbers to bring help quickly while at the fair, or find needed services.

Maybe the strongest deterrent of all would be more parental involvement. Too often, the fairgrounds are treated like a free baby-sitting service, with parents dropping kids off at the fair, giving them a wristband and then leaving.

We’d like to see an age limit established for the younger kids to always be accompanied by parents and even create a curfew for unaccompanied minors to find their parents.

Lovrien has raised a great issue here. We do not know of any instances of sexual assault at the fair, but we wouldn’t be surprised if there were. Rather than focus on this one aspect of safety, let’s create an overall safe, welcoming environment.

— American News editorial board