March 26, 2013 10:16:03 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
A debate that raged for months ended in a matter of minutes Monday.
The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors needed just 10 minutes to discuss and vote down a proposal to fund this year's Juneteenth Festival as a quality of life event in a special meeting Monday afternoon.
The Board voted 4-3 against funding the event.
"I didn't know which way the vote would go," Juneteenth representative Cindy Lawrence said. "I'm disappointed, but we just have to move on. This is going to affect Juneteenth greatly. If we don't have funding, there will not be a Juneteenth Festival in 2013."
At a special meeting, the funding of the Juneteenth Festival was the only matter open for discussion. Last month, the board tabled a motion to move the Juneteenth Festival from a tourism event to a quality of life event to allow Juneteenth officials to amend their plans in order to qualify as a quality of life event.
Originally approved for funding as a tourism event, in December Juneteenth organizer and county supervisor Leroy Brooks refused to accept the $15,000 tourism event funding from the CVB because of new guidelines that stipulated that only 25 percent of the funds -- $3,750 -- could be used for entertainment.
Brooks argued that the nature of the festival dictated that more than 25 percent be used for entertainment.
When efforts from some festival organizers failed to convince the board to change its guidelines for tourism events, Juneteenth organizers applied for a quality of life designation, which can be funded up to $8,000. Unlike tourism events, quality of life events have no stipulations on how the money is spent. In theory, the full amount could be used for entertainment, which appealed to Juneteenth organizers.
On Monday, that move appeared to have backfired.
When put to a vote, Bart Wise, Rissa Lawrence, Leon Ellis and Mark Castleberry voted against funding Juneteenth as an $8,000 quality of life event. Bernard Buckhalter, Whirllie Byrd and board president Dewitt Hicks voted in favor. Board members Nadia Dale and Harvey Myrick did not attend the meeting.
"Next week, we will celebrate the Pilgrimage, something I've been a part of for 35 years," Hicks said. "I'm very proud to be a part of that because it represents part of our heritage. By the same token, if I were African-American, I would be proud of the Juneteenth festival because it, too, recognizes and honors our cultural heritage. It celebrates freedom."
Castleberry said his opposition to funding Juneteenth should not be perceived as lack of appreciation for Juneteenth.
"I think we can all have an appreciation for what the event stands for," Castleberry said. "It goes beyond that though. As a board, we have to operate with limited assets, which means we have to make decisions based on our mission and other considerations. It's not just whether an event is good or bad. It also has to be evaluated in terms of if it meets the goals that we have in terms of our mission. It's not simply a matter of whether an event is good or not."
The Columbus Juneteenth Festival has been held for the last 17 years to commemorate 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.
Cindy Lawrence said the Juneteenth Festival organizers will likely make the final decision about whether to cancel this year's event at its April meeting.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]