CVB, festival organizers remain at impasse

February 13, 2013 10:28:47 AM

Jeff Clark - [email protected]


The debate over the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau's festival grant guidelines continued Tuesday with a special meeting with festival organizers. 


But the only decision to come out of the meeting was to schedule yet another meeting. 


The next special meeting to deal with the seemingly unending dispute is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 9 a.m.  


The guidelines, which were approved by the CVB board of trustees in August, have been the subject of discussion for several months as some festival organizers have protested the new stipulations attached to CVB funding for festival and quality of life events. 


While grants for quality of life events, capped at $8,000, have no stipulations on how the money can be spent, tourism grants, capped at $15,000, carry a stipulation that no more than 25 percent of the money can be used for entertainment. Some festival organizers feel that condition is unreasonable because entertainment often represents the greatest cost they incur. 


The festival organizers' unofficial spokesperson, District 5 Supervisor and Juneteenth Festival organizer Leroy Brooks urged the CVB board Tuesday to make some changes or risk killing some of the city and county festivals and events. 


"I'm at the point where I think we've beat this path enough," said Brooks, who turned down $15,000 for the Juneteenth Festival in late 2012 in protest of the new guidelines. "These festivals represent constituent-based activities. We are at a point where we have money coming in (to the CVB). There's enough money coming in. There's no reason you all can't fund these actives at the level so we can do them right. This isn't the only money we get. We have to raise money for our festivals as well. Not many African Americans go to Pilgrimage, but we don't fight it. We should not have to choose between one or the other." 


The CVB is also considering a change in its policies that would prevent elected officials from soliciting funds for events they organize. Currently, four elected officials have secured funds for various festivals in the recent years. 


In January, Brooks sent a letter to grant committee chairman Mark Castleberry that said he and other elected officials who are festival organizers would no longer approach the board for funding but would send proxies for their events. 


"It is not my intention to ever come back before this board for anything -- I don't plan to come back and ask for another dime," Brooks said. 


The letter also asked the board to reconsider the guideline restrictions on how the grant monies can be used. Brooks, whose festival entertainment has included Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Rufus Thomas among others, asked the committee to seriously consider his requests. 


"We need the money for entertainment," he said. "Juneteenth will get bigger with better entertainment." 


District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith also appeared before the committee during the public forum. Smith, who was a co-organizer of the Townsend Blues Festival with Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor, said he has stepped down as an event coordinator and will stay involved in a volunteer capacity. Smith asked the committee to be less combative with the festival organizers. 


"I think these festivals enhance the image of this community," Smith said. "We go out and raise money for these festivals. We work hard for these festivals. These are the community's festivals. Somewhere, this thing has gotten off track. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. As small as these festivals may seem to some, they are huge to others. We have to stop fighting." 


After the public hearing portion ended, board members were uncertain as to what would be their next move, 


"I always opposed the $8,000 for quality-of-life events," Bernard Buckhalter said. "I think it should be $12,000. We need to do something to move forward." 


While Buckhalter continued to press for impromptu recommendations, Castleberry said the board should consider what's best for the community. 


""We're not here to serve the organizers," Castleberry said. "We are here to serve the people of Lowndes County. What's been missing from this conversation is what is the return for the community." 


The festival grants committee will meet again on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 9 am to discuss the public forum and to consider making possible recommendations to the CVB board at its regular meeting on Feb. 25.