George Gilestra, of Clovis, reaches in the box for a ticket to Friday’s BRAC regional hearing during ticket drawing Wednesday at The North Plains Mall. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Pass distribution for Friday’s Base Realignment and Closure hearing shattered expectations of local leaders and organizers — but not in the manner they’d hoped.
While plans had been made for 4,000 area residents to attend the hearing in five different venues, Wednesday night ended with only enough passes distributed to fill the main auditorium with a maximum capacity of about 1,400.
The hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. Friday in Marshall Junior High School’s auditorium. BRAC commissioners are scheduled to hear arguments from those who support removing Cannon Air Force Base from the Department of Defense’s proposed closure list.
Distribution of the passes reached a quick peak, but then fizzled.
At the start of the evening, a line of eager citizens stood outside the gated room in the North Plains Mall, waiting to obtain passes for the BRAC event, most hoping to draw a seat to the auditorium. Passes to four other video-feed venues — two separate Marshall gyms and two 16th and Pile church arenas — were also initially distributed.
The early birds dove their hands into the yellow paper boxes to retrieve one colored pass, coordinated to match one of the five venues. Minutes later the line of about 300 dwindled, quickly becoming a slow trickle. Residents moseyed into the room, as a handful of police officers surveyed the quiet hall, and mall employees folded empty chairs set up to accommodate the expected crowd that never materialized.
In response to the lack-of-response, the color-coordinated system was abandoned, in favor of distributing all the yellow auditorium passes. Those who received orange, blue, pink, and green colored tickets at the North Plains Mall were free to exchange them for yellow passes to the auditorium, also free to take as many as they would like in an attempt to simply fill the auditorium.
“I got here early,” said retired Air Force Sgt. Donald Sawyer, holding two yellow tickets in one hand and his cell phone in the other, after swapping an orange ticket for a yellow ticket. “I was a little disappointed I didn’t (originally) get a yellow ticket. I just wanted to hear the commissioners, who will be in the auditorium.”
According to pass distributor and Melrose Village Councilor Lance Pyle, less than 50 passes for the auditorium remain. The remaining auditorium passes will be distributed at the Chamber of Commerce, 215 N. Main St., beginning at 8 a.m. Those who wish to exchange other passes for an ancillary venue may do so this morning.
President of the Clovis/Curry Chamber of Commerce Stacey Martin said late Wednesday night that a pass system for the other venues had not yet been finalized.
“There are some differing opinions on whether or not a piece of paper is needed to get into the overflow venues ,” Martin said.
Discussion about the overflow venue procedures had not yet ended at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
“We just moved forward — to fill the auditorium was our primary goal,” said Martin of the ever-evolving pass distribution process.
“The process ended up being perhaps too complex than it should have been. I think there was some confusion about how to acquire tickets. But there is no doubt a lot of public support.”