March 19, 2013 10:32:44 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
Juneteenth festival organizers will have to wait another month to find out if they will receive their request for an $8,000 quality of life grant from the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau.
After 20 minutes of wrangling, several motions and an amendment, the CVB voted 5-4 to table the request until the board receives an updated application and a new budget from organizers.
Festival organizer and Lowndes County District 1 Supervisor Leroy Brooks had originally applied for a $15,000 tourism grant and an $8,000 quality of life grant for the festival and was awarded the tourism grant in November 2012. But in December, Brooks rejected the money, saying new festival guidelines capping entertainment expenses rendered the funds unacceptable.
Under the new rules, tourism events are eligible for $15,000 grants if they draw visitors from more than 100 miles away. Only 25 percent of the funds can be used for entertainment. Quality of life events must benefit the local community, and there are no stipulations as to how the money is spent. Festivals must be at least two-day events to receive funding, which turned out to be a point of contention for the Juneteenth event.
Juneteenth chairman Cindy Lawrence asked the board to consider the quality of life grant, but when questioned by Wise about the $9,900 budgeted loss, she said the festival would be scaled back to a one-day event taking place on June 15.
Board member Bernard Buckhalter made a motion, seconded by Whirllie Byrd, to fund the festival for the $8,000 amount, but Bart Wise and Rissa Lawrence called for organizers to rework the budget to reflect the scaled-back event. Harvey Myrick pointed out that by changing the number of days of the event, the original application was no longer valid.
Wise called for a new presentation, saying the one-day event Lawrence proposed was completely different from the original three-day festival the board discussed.
"Your financials are so much different," Wise said. "It's going to affect the events you have tremendously."
A motion to table the matter until further information could be obtained failed 5-4, with Buckhalter, Mark Castleberry, Leon Ellis, Lawrence and Wise voting against it.
The board recommended that Juneteenth organizers develop a plan for a two-day event, which would make it conform to the criteria of a quality of life event, but a motion to grant $8,000, contingent upon that change, failed 5-4. Castleberry, Ellis, Lawrence, Myrick and Wise voted against it.
An impassioned plea from Byrd failed to move the majority.
"It's not about Cindy Lawrence, Leroy Brooks or whomever it is," Byrd said. "It's about the community right now. We can give $8,000 to Juneteenth. Most folks who are going to participate in this will be the African-American community. Just because folks around this board don't have a part in it or don't give a hoot, let's do this $8,000. Amidst all the other money we give different events, shooting birds and whatever else, we can give $8,000 to Juneteenth."
"I don't think the Afro-American community or the white community or whatever you want to talk about has anything to do with it," Rissa Lawrence said. "What it has to do with is (Cindy Lawrence) said it was going to be a one-day event. That knocks it out, because on the quality of life application, it says it must be a minimum of two days."
The board again voted on a motion to table the matter, which was approved by a 5-4 vote after the board asked Executive Director Nancy Carpenter to follow up with Juneteenth organizers to obtain a new application and budget for consideration. Castleberry, Ellis, Lawrence and Wise voted against the motion.
According to the national Juneteenth website, the worldwide event "is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States."
It dates to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought word to Texans that the Civil War was over and slaves had been freed two years previously when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
This will be the 18th year the celebration has been held in Lowndes County.
The next CVB board meeting will be April 15 at 4 p.m. at the CVB office at 117 Third Street South in Columbus.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.