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Funding, open meeting debate dominate CVB meeting

 

Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board Chairman DeWitt Hicks, left, and CVB Board Member Bernard Buckhalter clashed repeatedly over open meeting issues during Monday’s board meeting.

Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board Chairman DeWitt Hicks, left, and CVB Board Member Bernard Buckhalter clashed repeatedly over open meeting issues during Monday’s board meeting. Photo by: Lee Adams/Dispatch Staff

 

Jeff Clark

 

Festival organizers seeking grant money from the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau will have a new set of guidelines in 2013. The CVB Board of Directors voted in two separate motions to define quality of life events versus tourism events. 

 

"(The Grants Committee) was unanimous in all of our points except one -- we didn't agree on how much the events should be funded," board member Mark Castleberry said. "We recommend quality of life events being funded at up to $8,000 and tourism events being funded up to $12,000. There was some discussion on raising and lowering the numbers." 

 

CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said the board needed to clearly define the difference between the two types of festivals. 

 

"Quality of life events are good for the neighborhood and they don't have to draw people from a 100-mile radius," Carpenter said. "Any amount of the grant money can be used for entertainment. Only non-profit groups may apply for these grants." 

 

Castleberry made a motion to fund quality of life "as submitted" at up to $8,000, which was questioned by board member Bernard Buckhalter. 

 

"I'm a board member and I can make a motion," Castleberry said. "It's OK for you to disagree." 

 

Castleberry's motion also received scrutiny from Whirllie Byrd. 

 

"I would hate to just vote for something right away," Byrd said. "Why don't we let the festival organizers look over these guidelines?" 

 

"If we are going to give away grant money, people must obey our wishes," Castleberry said. "If you don't do what we say, we aren't obligated to give you any funding." 

 

Buckhalter suggested the board table the discussion until the September board meeting, but they followed through with a 5-3 vote to adopt the quality of life guidelines as set forth by the grants committee, funding the events at up to $8,000. 

 

Castleberry suggested the board fund tourism events at up to $12,000, which also drew criticism from Buckhalter, who cited the funding the board passed at a July work session in Crawford for next year's MLK Dream 365 event. Buckhalter was not present at the board retreat. 

 

"I have the same objection I had at the (grant) committee meeting," Buckhalter said. "We've already funded one event for 2013 at $15,000 and now we are going to make it less for others?" 

 

According to Castleberry, the MLK Dream 365 funding was grandfathered in under the 2012 guidelines. 

 

"They got lucky," Castleberry said. 

 

"I don't like the fact that MLK (Dream 365) was already approved," said Nadia Dale, who also was not present at the board retreat when the vote was made to fund the event. 

 

The board retreat has been a source of contention for some board members.  

 

The CVB Board passed the Fiscal Year 2013 budget in July at the Board's retreat. The budget is based on a portion of estimated sales tax in 2013. The approved budget is $1.6 million, which is about a 10-percent increase from its current budget.  

 

"I'm concerned why there was a rush to adopt the budget at a retreat," Buckhalter said. "The board should have taken the budget and put it on the table and let everyone discuss it. You have a $1.6 million budget you passed in two hours." 

 

Buckhalter also questioned the board at the beginning of Monday's meeting about the legitimacy of conducting business during the retreat. 

 

"I want to see the July 24 minutes," he said. "I have concerns that it was not a specially-called meeting."  

 

Board Chairman Dewitt Hicks said the board did nothing wrong at the retreat. 

 

"The retreat has always been a (board) meeting," Hicks said. "We recessed on July 16 and met again on the 24th." 

 

"I understood we were having a retreat and not a board meeting," Buckhalter said.  

 

Castleberry said the board acted within its rights to conduct business during a retreat. 

 

While the board did place a written notice on the doors of its normal meeting place on July 4 stating it was having a retreat in Crawford, and media outlets were notified, some questions still remain regarding the board's right to vote during a retreat.  

 

Board attorney Chris Latimer was not present at the retreat.  

 

According to the Mississippi Open Meetings Act: "Any public body which holds its meetings at such times and places and by such procedures as are specifically prescribed by statute shall continue to do so and no additional notice of such meetings shall be required except that a notice of the place, date, hour and subject matter of any recessed meeting, adjourned meeting, interim meeting or any called special meeting shall be posted within one (1) hour after such meeting is called in a prominent place available to examination and inspection by the general public in the building in which the public body normally meets. A copy of the notice shall be made a part of the minutes or other permanent official records of the public body." 

 

Tom Hood, director of the Mississippi Ethics Commission, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon. The Dispatch is seeking an official opinion from the Ethics Commission. 

 

The CVB's next meeting will be held Sept. 17 at 5 p.m.

 

 

 

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