The Middletown town council met Dec. 18 to approve parade guidelines that will make it possible for the Hummers Parade to happen.
Despite a controversial float causing public backlash, the Hummers Parade is likely to continue.
The Middletown town council met Dec. 18 to approve parade guidelines that will make it possible for the New Year’s Day tradition to happen again.
The guidelines put the sole responsibility for what occurs in the parade on the person or organization that applies for the permit, so the town can avoid sponsorship or endorsement.
“We have never ever sponsored a parade,” mayor Ken Branner said. “But we can offer guidelines around what our expectations are, and that’s exactly what these are.”
Jack Schreppler, who calls himself the ‘grand marshal for life’ of Hummers, said he received his permit from the town Dec. 19. He is still waiting on a permit from DelDot because he needs permission to use the state-maintained highways Main and Broad streets.
The parade committee formed in October gave the town a set of recommendations banning discriminatory, offensive or unsafe floats for all future parades earlier this month. Most of the rules were targeted at the Hummers parade after a float in 2019 portraying children in cages at border detention went viral, causing public controversy, with some residents demanding action from the town.
They were deemed potentially unconstitutional by the town lawyer, violating the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
The new guidelines specified, “The town cannot, and will not, attempt to unlawfully regulate the exercise of free speech.”
“There have been other parades where people have been offended. I’ve been offended at other parades, but the First Amendment gives them the right to offend somebody, and that is something you can’t control,” Branner said in response to a Middletown resident.
The fate of the Hummers Parade seemed uncertain when the committee members discussed cancelling the 2020 parade during their meetings. The Middletown tradition pokes fun at politicians, celebrities and current news topics, spoofing the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. Anyone can decide to make a float and join the caravan down Main Street.
When multiple community members spoke during the public comment period of the Dec. 18 meeting, they asked if the Hummers Parade would happen this year. Branner said as long as whoever files the permit for the parade gives them everything listed on the application, they have to approve it. He said the town has approved permits in the past they didn’t like but had to, citing the Klu Klux Klan as an example.
The guidelines say the permit applicant holds sole responsibility for all aspects of the parade, which include following the rules and procedures in the guidelines and permit. But Middletown residents in the crowd and at the podium wanted to know what would happen if someone violated the rules and procedures.
After more than 40 minutes of comments from the public, the council added a rule that says if any of the guidelines are violated, it may result in denial of future permits.
Avoiding a court case
Jack Schreppler, who calls himself the Hummers ‘Grand Marshal for life,’ usually applies for the permit. Schreppler filed for one Jan. 4 and had yet to hear from the town by Dec. 18.
Schreppler threatened to sue should the town cancel or put limitations on the Hummers Parade and filed a lawsuit with the Court of Chancery the day before the meeting. It is likely the lawsuit will be withdrawn once his permit is approved.
He said he is happy the town came to a constitutional decision.
“The Constitution is for all of us,” Schreppler said. “I think the town handled the guidelines in a thoughtful and grown-up fashion.”
He pointed out that there was nothing in last year’s parade that would violate the guidelines. If the permit is approved, the Hummers Parade will take place New Year’s Day, starting around 1 p.m.
Some residents were displeased with the town’s inability to regulate Hummers Parade content. Curtis Rogers said he plans to protest every Hummers Parade, looking Schreppler in the eye as he said it.
During the meeting’s comment period, Emy Diaz-Rivera and Maggie Delisi, who said they were part of the Hispanic community in Middletown said they were frustrated with the council not appointing one Hispanic woman to be one the parade committee.
Diaz-Rivera said she was offended by the float in last year’s parade and should have someone representing her on the committee.
“I didn’t feel the Latino community was represented,” she said. “I feel like somebody should have reached out and gotten at least one Latino man and one woman.”
Each council member chose one person to help draft guidelines, and one man Hispanic man, Milton Delgado, was picked.
Delisi was especially frustrated with the council not thinking to ask her to be on the committee. She said works behind town hall and sees some of the councilmen frequently, so she said she expected one of them to ask her.
“I was quite upset that all of you who chose someone did not pick me,” she said. “I was working for the community behind you guys for 12 years and many I know with a ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye.’”
During an earlier council meeting Branner remembers Delisi attending, he asked the crowd to let him and the other members know if someone wanted to be on the committee.
Delisi did not confirm if she asked the council specifically to be on the committee.
The conversation shifted to lack of access the council gives to Spanish-speaking residents in Middletown with Delisi and Diaz-Rivera asking why the parade committee — and other town council meeting — don’t post their notices and meeting minutes in Spanish.
“I found there wasn’t much notice given to people from the Latino community,” Diaz-Rivera said. “It is on the town to inform their residents.”
Branner said from now on, the town will post the notices and minutes in Spanish. He asked Delisi to set a meeting with him after the first of the year to learn how to create better relations with the Hispanic community.