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Cain Society withdrawal hinges on liability

We, the Joe Cain Society board members, appreciate the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce’s offers of additional security and other measures in order to mitigate public safety risks associated with public alcohol consumption.

However, (Chamber president) David Vertin (“Other Voices,” Oct. 30) neglects to discuss an equally important issue contributing to the Joe Cain Society’s push to ban open containers on the street and our subsequent decision to not hold next year’s Procession. That issue is, who is responsible or liable if any person, child or real property is hurt or damaged as a result of the Chamber’s open-container policy?

Also, it seems as though not all of the Chamber officers and members are in agreement with David Vertin’s decisions. One officer, quoted in The Union, stated, Joe Cain should be allowed to try a non-open-container for one year. I also received a phone call in which I was told, “We were just trying to get you guys to do it our way.”



As one of our local merchants recently put it, “Before Joe Cain came to town, you could have shot a cannon off down Broad Street and not hit anybody. I think the Chamber has just shot themselves in the foot.” I wholeheartedly agree.

The Joe Cain Society is a nonprofit organization governed by seven directors (made up of private citizens without liability insurance). We operate solely for the benefit of our community and have done so for the last 10 years.




Our event has provided great publicity for Nevada City; brought tens of thousands of dollars to this town, not to mention the thousands of dollars we donate each year to other nonprofits. The shops and stores profit from this weekend, while the Joe Cain Ball and Procession help to fill the many hotels, motels, B&Bs and restaurants. And, of course, this all increases our city coffers, which helps pay for additional community projects and services.

Our push for a ban on open containers was based on last year’s Procession, at which the number of arrests, altercations with police and assaults on cleanup crews and volunteers were a direct result of public drinking, drunkenness and alcohol-induced misbehavior. Luckily, no one was hurt, but we realized the risk that someone could be seriously hurt or worse was growing in correlation with the growing number of people attending the Procession.

With this knowledge, we approached the Chamber of Commerce via a letter sent on April 12, 2002, with the following question: If the Chamber insists on their policy of open containers on the street and injuries and/or damages result, then who is liable for those injuries/damages, and or any resulting litigation? Is it the city? The Chamber of Commerce? The Joe Cain Society board members? If we, the Joe Cain Society, are liable, could we lose our homes or our savings?

Also, in our letter, we asked the Chamber to place us under their umbrella liability insurance policy. As an alternative, we asked the Chamber to hold the Joe Cain Society and its board members harmless from liability for damages resulting from the Chamber’s open-container policy. We have never received a response from the Chamber.

Now, no one said the Chamber couldn’t hold a Mardi Gras celebration. What we said was, because the Chamber insists on having open containers, we cannot allow our name to be used in the event litigation arises during their event. The Joe Cain Society of California is registered with the state of California. Using our name without permission would be like someone coming into town with a horse and buggy and wanting to call himself or herself the Nevada City Carriage Co.

The Joe Cain Society promotes the Masquerade Ball as an adult venue. The Procession is an event where families, friends and neighbors can come together for one day and not have to worry about being exposed to public, obnoxious, alcohol-induced behavior.

We want everyone to have a good time and, believe, me we have nothing against having a glass of wine, beer or any other alcoholic beverage. We are concerned about public drinking, or drinking on the streets, and we are very concerned about whether the number of proposed additional policemen on the street is sufficient to protect the public. Clearly, a viable alternative is to keep drinking indoors. There are plenty of bars on Broad Street for people to drink inside.

We thought long and hard about the potential risks to the public, to ourselves and to our families, and are sincerely torn and saddened about not fulfilling our commitment to the community by not continuing with the Joe Cain Procession. However, given both the Chamber’s open-container policy and its lack of response to our request to be held harmless from their policy, we regretfully decided to withhold from this year’s event.

Curt Colagross is the treasurer of the Joe Cain Society of California.


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