Brooks: Juneteenth still in limbo

April 8, 2013 9:29:47 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Columbus Juneteenth festival founder Leroy Brooks said the likelihood of a 17th consecutive installment of the event will likely hinge on whether or not the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors has a change of heart from its decision last month against funding it. 


The matter may be revisited when the board meets 4 p.m. April 15. 


The board rejected a proposal to fund Juneteenth as a quality of life event during a special meeting March 25. A vote in favor would have provided up to $8,000 in funding.  


Last December, Brooks turned down the board's approval to fund the festival as a tourism event because of conditions that went into effect this fiscal year that permitted tourism events to use only 25 percent of the CVB grant money for entertainment. Quality of life events have no guidelines on how the money is spent. Brooks said previously, the full amount of the grant money had been budgeted for entertainment. 


During the March 25 meeting, board members Mark Castleberry, Leon Ellis, Rissa Lawrence and Bart Wise voted against funding the event, while Bernard Buckhalter, Whirllie Byrd and Board President Dewitt Hicks voted in favor. Brooks noted that two of the board's nine members -- Nadia Dale and Harvey Myrick -- were not at that meeting. If the matter came up for reconsideration during the board's April 15 meeting, two votes in favor of funding the festival from them would make enough votes for a motion to pass. 


If that happens, Brooks said, Juneteenth board members could begin organizing a scaled-back version of the festival. In previous years, the festival budget, comprised of money Juneteenth board members raised and CVB funding, exceeded $20,000. Brooks said he had already trimmed that number to $14,500 for this year's event. If the board takes no action or again votes down a proposal to fund the festival as a quality of life event, all bets for a 2013 Juneteenth are off, he said. 


"I'm disappointed that the board didn't see it as a quality of life event. It's one of the largest events we have each year in Columbus and it's been very successful for the 16 years we've organized it," Brooks said. "It's difficult to try to do a major festival without funding from the Convention and Visitor's Bureau. Even if we got funding, it would still be a challenge to raise $6,500. We're not going to be able to raise all $14,500 from the ground up." 


As to why he rejected the initial $15,000 offered as a tourism event, he said the percentage of how much could be spent on entertainment was not sufficient. Brooks said he felt he was "punished" by the board when it voted down a proposal to fund the festival as a quality of life event as a result of that action and his vocal opposition to the new spending rules. 


"If the entertainment (would cost) $15,000 and they were only going to give us so much for entertainment, we're already behind the 8-ball in the beginning. Why take something when you know it isn't going to work? I think with any festival involving ... entertainment you should have the flexibility to use whatever portion you receive for that," Brooks said. "When you put guidelines in place where that's not going to work, then we're doomed to fail. I challenged the board on the guidelines and (their decision not to fund the festival as a quality of life event) is what happens. Nevertheless, I hope they go back and there will be someone on the board that will change their mind for the goodwill and good faith of the community." 


The event has been held in Columbus since 1996 and celebrates the ending of slavery in the United States. It dates to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers came to Texas with the message that the Civil War was over and slaves had been freed two years before when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the South's surrender that ended the war.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.