City of Durham Special Events

To help plan and execute special events – particularly involving elected officials – the Communications Department has established a protocol for use by department directors, supervisors, and public affairs specialists.

While the focus is pre-planning and on-site considerations, it also addresses proper communication etiquette for inviting elected officials and executive administration to special events. This protocol is meant to be a general guideline for successfully planning, executing, and evaluating special events. Each event is different and all guidelines may not apply in every situation.

Requesting an Event Permit

A special event permit is required for any event that:

  • Is located on City-owned property or an outdoor public space and requires the temporary closing of public streets, sidewalks, rights-of-way; and/or
  • Is located in a facility or space managed by Durham Parks and Recreation; and/or
  • Is a large or complex event that requires City assistance or services (such as police security, trash collection, etc.)

Confirm if you need a special event permit and view the application


Elected & Executive Administration

If a department/division identifies a need for a special event (ground breaking, ribbon-cutting, open house, recurring or one-time celebrations, etc.), a point person in the originating department should be identified and accountable for all pre-planning activities.

Once an event has been identified as necessary, the Communications Department should be contacted by the department and provided with the following information:
  •    When, where, and why event is being planned.
  •    Primary contact in originating department who is responsible for event planning.
  •    What, if any, publicity assistance is needed from the Communications Department for the event (news release, broadcast announcement, etc.).
  •    If elected officials are being asked to participate and/or attend.

How to Request Involvement of a City Council Member in a Special Event

Requests from City Departments

  •    If a department wants a council member or the entire City Council to perform a ceremonial task either during or outside of a City Council meeting, the department must obtain approval from their respective deputy city manager. The deputy city manager’s written approval (an email is sufficient) should be forwarded to the assistant to the city manager in the City Manager’s Office.
  •    The assistant to the city manager in the City Manager’s Office will work with the deputy city managers to ensure the City Manager is aware and approves of the department’s request. The department and deputy city manager will be notified if the city manager disapproves the request.
  •    Upon approval to proceed from the City Manager’s Office, departments then need to contact staff in the City Council Office to determine the scheduling and availability of council members.


    : Copy the assistant to the city manager in the City Manager’s Office when using email communication with the council’s staff to ensure that they remain in the communication loop.
  •    If you are asking council member(s) to speak at a ceremonial event, departments should provide talking points to the council’s staff so that they can be shared with the appropriate council member.
  •    If requesting a council member to present a proclamation or resolution, departments must provide a draft of the proclamation or resolution to staff in the City Council Office.

Requests from Residents

Residents requesting a ceremonial item should be directed to the City Clerk’s Office for assistance.

Check List: Elected Officials Attending a Special Event


  •    City Council members should be notified at least one month (if the event is known) prior to any public notice of the event. Contact the Council Office directly via email, and copy the Communications Department Director.
  •    Invitations should be sent via email and in hard copy to their City Hall mailboxes. Administrative staff in the City Council Office should also be copied on all invitations.
  •    Senior executive administration officials (city manager, deputy city managers, and other executive-level staff) should be invited at least one month in advance of any event. Invitations can be sent electronically; no hard copy invitation is required.
  •    Invitations to dignitaries and special guests, especially federal or state officials, may need to be issued sooner than one month in advance of the event.
  •    Depending on budget and significance of the event, determine protocols for use of email vs. mailed invitations, social media, etc.
  •    Determine special guests for event and if any special speakers need to be invited.
  •    Determine and compile a guest list of officials (state, federal, community, etc.) who should receive a personal invitation to attend.


Determine the order of speakers based on the rank of the officials.

  •    For events where the Mayor is invited to speak, the Mayor should always be listed as the first City of Durham official to speak before any other City elected official or employee.
  •    Determine the protocol for responsibility of recognizing dignitaries, special guests, and elected officials. Determine who will be your event emcee if appropriate.


  • Determine seating protocols for invited dignitaries, guests, and elected officials (reserved, dais, etc.) including seating assignments.

Site Visit

  •    Determine if an on-site power source for equipment is available; if not, determine how to bring in generators or battery-operated equipment.
  •    Visit the event site and diagram the layout of where activities will take place. Be sure to account for background images when placing staging, tents, parking, and other activities such as the ribbon-cutting or ground breaking.
  •    If special parking will be set aside for elected officials and speakers, determine where this location will be, if different for attendees, etc. It is highly recommended that close parking be provided for elected officials and guest speakers if possible.

Invitations & Collateral

  •    Determine a production schedule for design/printing/mailing (if appropriate) for all promotional pieces, including invitations, programs, on-site signage, giveaway items, etc.
  •    Depending upon event budget, as well as the magnitude of the event, determine appropriate layout and quality of the invitations and event agenda.
  •    Note that all pieces, particularly those that contain the City’s primary or secondary logos, must be sent to the Communications Department for approval prior to production.

Media Relations and Social Media

  •    Determine the publicity/communication plan for the event and work with the Communications Department to ensure all communication tactics are employed to publicize the event and encourage attendance.
  •    Determine if on-site photography and videography are needed and make arrangements with either the Communications Department and/or a local vendor to record event accordingly.
  •    Determine if advance arrangements need to be made for photographers.
  •    Determine how and when advance media notifications will be made.
  •    Determine if a special staging area is needed for news media. Also, if project budget allows, rent a “mult box” for media usage to ensure they capture quality audio of the event.
  •    Determine if live tweeting or live video using the City’s social media platforms is appropriate and work with the Communications Department prior to the event to arrange for this type of coverage.


  •    Determine who will be the main coordinating person the day of the event to keep the event on track, on time, etc.
  •    Determine who will be responsible for briefing all speakers ahead of time so they know exactly what to expect, where to be and when, the speaking order, the suggested length of their speech, etc.

Staging & Setup

  •    Determine if the event will require a podium, staging and a/v system. If so, you will need to rent the appropriate equipment from a local vendor.
  •    It is highly recommended that you hire a professional company to setup, stay, and then remove staging and a/v equipment.
  •    Determine if the event will require chairs for attendees. If so, estimate how many will be needed based on projected attendance/interest in event and rent them accordingly from a local vendor.
  •    If feasible, have American, State and City flags present on the stage.

Outdoor Events

  •    Create a “Plan B” in case of inclement weather.
  •    Determine if the event will require tenting, heating, fans, flooring/carpeting, tables, easels for displays, etc.
  •    Take note that with outdoor events, weather must be considered regardless of the time of year and take this into account when displaying posters, models, etc. Even slight wind can wreak havoc on posters/easels and cause them to topple unless properly secured.


  •    Determine if refreshments, giveaway promotional items, and printed programs are appropriate. If so, work with a local caterer and other vendors as appropriate keeping in mind that 4-to-6 week delivery turnaround is customary.

Special Activities

  •    Determine who will participate in the special activities (e.g., who will be invited to cut the ribbon or shovel dirt, etc.)
  •    Determine the number of needed scissors for ribbon-cuttings, shovels for ground breakings, etc.


  •    Be sure to secure mobile phone numbers for all on-site event managers and hired vendors. Staff should arrive early to the event site to ensure hired vendors arrive as scheduled to construct any on-site equipment/staging.
  •    Determine who will be the on-site coordinator solely responsible for event execution.
  •    It is appropriate to delegate portions of the event execution to other staff; however, these staff members must be briefed ahead of time as to their role and responsibility and what to do if things happen that are not planned. They should also understand who will be the primary point person that day if issues arise that need to be addressed.
  •    Determine who will greet and escort elected officials and/or speakers to their special staging/seating area if appropriate.
  •    Determine who will hand out programs, oversee the refreshment table, etc. and assign them accordingly.
  •    Determine how many City staff volunteers will be needed the day of the event to help with site preparation/decorations and provide on-site logistical assistance to guests, etc.
  •    Determine what time volunteers/staff need to arrive the day of the event to help and what type of assistance will be needed prior to arrival.
  •    Determine what type of tear down assistance will be needed and assign volunteers/staff accordingly.


  •    Determine if the event warrants any on-site security and/or fire safety issues and work with the Durham Police Department and Durham Fire Department to ensure all proper permits are submitted for items such as off-duty officers, tenting, EMS, etc.
  •    Visit the event permits web page to determine if a Special Event Permit Application must be filed with the Durham Police Department.

After the Special Event

  •    Initiate event tear down with a previously assigned team of volunteers or staff members.
  •    Review and save news media coverage of the event.
  •    If appropriate, work with the Communications Department to send photographs and a brief “recap” news release to media outlets not present at the event to encourage news coverage in outlets other than those in attendance.
  •    Do a post-event analysis to determine what worked well and what opportunities for improvement exist. Share this analysis with the Communications Department via email.
  •    For any questions or additional guidance on event protocol, contact the Communications Department for assistance.