May 9, 2013 10:18:22 AM
In Leroy Brooks' version of the history of Juneteenth, in June of 1865, two months after the end of the Civil War, Union forces notified a group of slaves in Texas that they were free men, women and children. Upon learning this, the slaves in question went before the town council to secure funding for a spontaneous celebration. Most of the money was used to bring in outside entertainment because -- let's face it -- entertainment was the most important aspect.
After a six-month effort to bend the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau to his will, Brooks turned his attention to the Columbus City Council this week.
During Tuesday's council meeting, Brooks made a successful bid to secure city funds to support this year's local Juneteenth Festival, which has been operated by Brooks, a Lowndes County supervisor, since its inception in 1996.
Councilman Kabir Karriem made the motion to provide the Juneteenth Festival with $2,500 in matching funds and the council approved the measure by a 4-2 vote.
Those who have followed city government over the last couple of months realize by now that the city is likely facing a budget deficit due to declining sales tax revenue. Yet the sales tax revenue has been appreciably lower than last year. In fact, sale tax revenue is down more than $200,000 over the past five months.
The city's response?
Pay no attention to that accountant behind the curtain!
A couple of months ago, a proposal requesting $10,000 for a summer jobs program for youth was approved -- for $20,000, twice the amount that was requested.
And now, the city is getting into the festival business: "Here's $2,500! Who's next? The line forms at the municipal complex."
During a candidate's forum at the Columbus Exchange Club, mayor Robert Smith told the audience the city's millage would have to go up if the city was going to meet its obligations. Given the city's decision to fund neighborhood festivals, is it any wonder?
Councilmen Bill Gavin and Charlie Box, who voted against the festival funding, correctly said that providing the funding to Juneteenth could open a Pandora's Box of sorts. If the city funds Juneteenth, won't other festivals come calling?
Karriem assured his fellow council members that each festival request would be considered "on a case-by-case basis." That provides little comfort and raises even more questions.
With no policies, procedures or guidelines in place to determine who is eligible to receive city funding for festivals, how will these "case-by-case" decisions be made? Is it unreasonable to expect that one of those festivals that will be under consideration will be the Seventh Avenue Heritage Festival, an event operated by Karriem?
Will there be a cap on the funds the city provides to festival organizers?
Last year, the CVB issued more than $50,000 in festival grants. Will Columbus use that figure? Or, as Brooks suggested in his clashes with the CVB over funding, is $50,000 far too little?
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this whole affair is that there is already a funding source for neighborhood festivals. It's called the CVB. Brooks and Karriem, who have both secured thousands of dollars from the CVB over the years, should know that.
In fact, if Brooks had not rejected a CVB grant in December, he would have more taxpayer money to spend on entertainment than the city council's $2,500 donation. Under the CVB grant, Brooks would have been allowed to spend $3,750 of the grant's $15,000 total on entertainment.
So Brooks' approach doesn't add up.
And neither does the city's foray into the festival funding business.