A local motorcycle group doesn't plan to participate in this year's St. Patrick's Day Parade because of what group members say is an unfair restriction on the number of motorcycles that can appear in the event.
Parade officials say, however, that the same four-vehicle limit applies to all parade entrants.
Dodie Morales, a member of the local chapter of American Bikers Aim Toward Education (ABATE), said the group this year is restricted to having only four motorcycles in the parade, compared with the approximately 20 ABATE motorcyclists who rode in last year's parade.
"We are not going to be in the parade because we cannot pick and choose who are the four people who are going to ride in it," said Morales, a secretary in Kansas University's English department. "It wouldn't be fair because a lot of us want to ride."
Morales said that in addition to promoting motorcycle safety, the group is active in Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army's "adopt a family" program. The local ABATE chapter has about 85 members, and Morales said she would want about 20 motorcycle riders to be able to participate in this year's parade, which will be Sunday.
Gene Shaughnessy, parade chairman, said parade organizers had been unaware last year how many motorcyclists planned to participate. No other individual parade entry has more than four vehicles, he said, and the parade committee tries to limit entries to 50-60 feet to keep the event manageable.
"WE HAVE to have the flexibility to put the parade together," Shaughnessy said. "We can't tie up the city for two to three hours on end without having a problem. We've got traffic to worry about."
He said the parade usually runs about an hour and a half.
Parade officials also informed the motorcycle group that it could not fly an ABATE banner on a float as it did last year. Shaughnessy said that's because ABATE is a registered lobbying group and currently is lobbying against a proposed helmet law.
"We don't want the parade to be a platform for groups or activities that could be political or controversial," Shaughnessy said. "If they want to promote motorcycle safety and motorcycle education, that's fine. I used to be a biker, so I know exactly what they're talking about."
Shaughnessy said candidates for political office can appear in the parade and have their names appear on floats, but banners cannot state the political office the person is seeking. Nor can political candidates distribute campaign literature during the parade.
Morales said she sees no problem with the banner restriction.
"WE'RE NOT trying to push anything on anybody," she said. "All we want to do is ride in the parade this year because we really had a good time last year. I just think they don't want us in there."
Morales said one parade official told her there had been some negative feedback to the motorcycle group participating in the parade last year.
"I don't believe that," she said. "I was on that float last year, and wherever we went, people cheered and clapped. There were only a few times when we went by people and didn't get any response."
Morales said that after talking to parade officials about ABATE participating this year, "I felt they had already made up their minds not to let us in."
Said Shaughnessy, "We would still encourage them to be in the parade if they would like."
He said some people had complained about last year's ABATE entry being so large because their groups had been barred from the parade because of size restrictions.
"There's always a fine line, and we try not to step over it," Shaughnessy said. "We just want to be fair to everybody."