April 4, 2014 10:26:54 AM
Roughly 600 pounds of crawfish and 200 pounds of shrimp were sold at the Pilgrimage kick-off party Monday and Nancy Carpenter, the executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the event a success.
But after a Starkville vendor supplied the crawfish and shrimp, some Columbus residents questioned why Carpenter chose an out-of-town company instead of a local one. Columbus' 2-percent restaurant tax helps fund the CVB, after all, and some local businesses felt a local vendor should have been given the job.
Complicating matters is that during the Catfish in the Alley festival Saturday, a West Point company was used to supply a tent.
Carpenter on Thursday adamantly denied that she purposely chose to go outside Lowndes County for the items. She said she always gives local providers the opportunity to provide their services first before looking at other options.
She added that Catfish in the Alley and the kick-off were funded by the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation. While Carpenter leads that foundation, it is not funded by the 2-percent tax, but by payments from the CVB for maintenance of the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center. The CCHF gives all revenue from the Pilgrimage to the CVB, Carpenter said.
"I really don't want to hear anybody accusing us of not using local vendors," she said. "As much as we can, we absolutely do...this really is insulting to me."
The tent used Saturday was provided by Big Show Rentals in West Point. The crawfish and shrimp Monday was supplied by Brewski's in Starkville. Carpenter said Big Show Rentals charged $550. It is not known how much Brewski's has charged.
Carpenter said Rex's Rentals, a Columbus business, was approached about providing a tent for the Catfish in the Alley event. Carpenter claims the business said it did not have the tent size needed, though, and the decision was made to go with the West Point business. She added that Saturday's event was one of only two occasions where she has used a provider other than Rex's Rentals for tents and chairs.
"We only go out of town when it's necessary," she said. "Every chance I get, I do business here."
Rex Dickerson, however, who owns Rex's Rentals, said his business was not asked about providing anything for this year's Catfish in the Alley. He pointed out that the CVB and CCHF have used his equipment for the event in the past, and that his company's equipment was used for Monday's event.
Three known crawfish vendors call Columbus home: brothers Bubba and Brian Huckaby of Huck's Place; Jack Larmour; and Bob Roberts of Bob Roberts BBQ. Carpenter said she recently received a call from Brian Huckaby, who asked about catering at the kick-off.
Carpenter said she explained to Brian that his brother, Bubba Huckaby, told her the business could not handle the size of the order needed.
Contacted Thursday, Bubba Huckaby denied that he had spoken with Carpenter recently about crawfish catering.
"I haven't spoken to Nancy Carpenter in probably two years," he said. "I haven't had a conversation with Nancy Carpenter regarding anything about cooking crawfish at any timeframe I can even remember. If we did it was three or four years ago. If she had asked me three or four years ago when we were first starting, then yeah, I may have said that then, but to go under the blanket assumption every year instead of calling and checking with us to see if we want to do it, that's a different story."
Regardless, Brian Huckaby told Carpenter the business could indeed handle the order this year.
Brewski's, though, had already been brought in. So Carpenter told Brian Huckaby that Huck's would be used at the 2015 kick-off party.
Brewski's has catered the kick-off for two straight years. Curt Crissey, who owns the Starkville business, said he supports the practice of choosing local providers over out-of-towners.
"It's a local festival and you want to get your local folks in there. I appreciate that," he said. "I would want Starkville to use me for anything they do...I'm not trying to step on anyone's toes. The people who organize (events) for Columbus do a very good job and they're very good for Columbus. I apologize if I caused any controversy but I don't want to do so, and I wish everybody well."
Larmour, meanwhile, said he's never been approached to cater an event. This is his second year to have a trailer with a capacity to serve large parties, he said.
"I don't appreciate whoever does this not asking somebody in this county that pays that extra 2-percent sales tax for the CVB," Larmour said. "I wish they would ask somebody in the county whether we turn them out or not. They get outside entities to come in from different counties and they don't have anything to do with our county."
Carpenter said she did not know Larmour and did not know he catered crawfish boils.
She said in the future she would issue requests for proposals for event services but was "appalled at people looking for reasons to be ugly."
Carpenter said she could spend more time promoting Columbus "if I weren't having to spend time defending our actions."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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