CLEARWATER - The expected debate over contract terms governing sound levels at Coachman Park concerts did not occur at Thursday's City Council meeting. Instead, an agreement had apparently been struck between individual Council members and the City Manager.
The sound level issue arose during last Tuesday's Council work session, when Kevin Dunbar, Clearwater's Director of Parks and Recreation, sought approval of a boilerplate contract that would govern the conduct of concerts on city-owned property including Coachman Park. While the proposed contract referred to a "City sound policy", it contained no specific limitations and failed to describe how sound levels would be measured.
During last Tuesday's Council work session, Council member Bill Jonson asked Dunbar, "Can you supply a copy of the sound policy?" Dunbar responded, "We don't have anything in writing." The brief exchange was apparently enough to earn the support of Jonson's Council colleagues for adding specific sound level requirements to the contract.
During Thursday's Council meeting, Dunbar introduced the contract and added, "We will be bringing back to you at a later date a sound policy." Mayor Frank Hibbard asked him, "So we'll have specific standards that are understandable and measurable, right?" "Yes, that we will enforce across the board, yes," Dunbar replied.
The sound policy's "later date" will be the July 20 Council meeting, and it will be an important one. Having agreed to establish a policy, the Council is far from establishing what that specific policy is. And having little to no audio engineering expertise, Council members will be relying on the recommendations of a City staff that has been averse putting the policy in writing.
The key elements of the sound policy will be the sound level limit, expressed in decibels (db), and how it will be measured. In past Council presentations, Dunbar has claimed that an "average" of 95db is maintained at Coachman Park concerts.
But there is considerable latitude in Dunbar's use of "average". He has delegated the judgment of a 95db "average" to a City contractor who manages the sound equipment. "Average" has meant that at times the reading could be higher and at times lower, but the levels average 95db in the subjective opinion of the contractor.
The City's sound meter, a Radio Shack Model 33-2055, has the ability to measure both maximum and average sound levels; in the meter's "average" mode, an integrated average is taken during 1-second sampling periods, while it's "Max" mode displays the loudest measured sound level during the 1-second sampling period.
Using this device, the City has several choices for specifying how sound levels are measured:
But while it is a popular device among audiophiles, the City's Radio Shack sound level meter is not intended for professional use. The Users Guide reads, "This meter should be used for home/hobbyist use only," and cautions that it does not meet the requirements of the American National Standards Institute.
But at the end of the day it's the results that count, not the technical details. Describing conditions in the Old Clearwater Bay neighborhood during Coachman Park concerts, Patricia Bates Smith told the Council, "For those of us who live in the immediate area, even with the windows closed, it can be a bit trying at times." Residents of Island Estates, Downtown and Old Clearwater Bay are hopeful that the Council will provide a remedy during their July 20 meeting.
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