April 16, 2013 10:06:32 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
In March, a proposal submitted to the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors to fund the Juneteenth Festival failed by a one-vote margin. Juneteenth organizers remained hopeful, however, since two of the board members -- Nadia Dale and Harvey Myrick -- did not attend.
On Monday, organizers again attempted to push through the proposal, hoping that Dale and Myrick would support their bid.
But while all nine members were present Monday, the outcome remained the same.
Efforts to acquire a quality-of-life grant for Juneteenth died when the board voted 5-4 on Rissa Lawrence's motion not to take up the funding request. Lawrence, Leon Ellis, Mark Castleberry, Harvey Myrick and Bart Wise voted in favor of striking the item. Whirllie Byrd, Bernard Buckhalter, Nadia Dale and board president Dewitt Hicks opposed the motion.
The motion did not pass without heated discussion. Buckhalter said he thought Lawrence's motion was unlawful, but board attorney Chris Hemphill corrected him and told him items could be added to and removed from the agenda if they received majority approval. Buckhalter then accused board members of discrimination against festival founder and county supervisor Leroy Brooks.
"I don't know if it's something personal, but it seems like every time something comes up that concerns Mr. Brooks, (members) oppose it regardless of what it is. It's not about Mr. Brooks. It's about the community," Buckhalter said. "You need to put your personal feelings aside and do what your duties as a board member and not let personal feelings interfere with operations of the board."
Lawrence said he had no agenda against Brooks but noted he rejected accepting funding for Juneteenth as a tourism event due to newly instated financial caps that would only allow him to spend a quarter of the money on entertainment. The CVB grants up to $8,000 for quality of life events, which have no stipulations on how the money is spent.
"Mr. Brooks was awarded $15,000 as a tourism event. He rejected it. He came back again and asked for $8,000," Lawrence said. "If I'm counting correctly, he's been before this board about festivals and Juneteenth five times."
Dale asked if Brooks had placed the item on the agenda again for this meeting, after which Hicks said Buckhalter placed it there.
"If I'm correct, Mr. Brooks is the name that's on the paperwork for Juneteenth. Cindy Lawrence came and she said they had scaled it back to a one-day event. I asked if she had redone the budget. Now, I don't understand how you can have the same budget for a three-day event as a one-day event," Dale said. "They were allowed to come back again and said it is still a three-day event and two of the board members were not here but it was voted not to give them the $8,000. I think they've had plenty of opportunity to present it."
Brooks was not present at Monday's meeting.
Byrd said in light of the two members not present for the previous session, Dale and Myrick, the board should keep it on the agenda for consideration.
"I think it was important to schedule that special called meeting so that at least the members of the executive committee, such as Nadia Dale, could have been here since the schedule was at first set up so that she could be here but somehow it was changed later that it did not accommodate her schedule," Byrd said. "That would be a reason I say to revisit it so that at least the two members who were part of the grant committee and one member being part of the executive committee could at least have a chance to vote."
Myrick said he was unable to attend the special called meeting due to a previously scheduled doctor's appointment with a family member.
"It's my understanding that special meeting was called for reconsideration of a vote on Juneteenth and I understand this board voted at that meeting," Myrick said. "If it's on the agenda again today, it looks to me like it would be a reconsideration of a reconsideration, and that's going pretty far."
After passing the motion, Buckhalter continued to voice his displeasure with the removed agenda item, noting that Grillin' on the River was approved as a quality of life event after appearing on multiple board agendas.
"Race is one of the biggest issues Columbus (has). Nobody wants to discuss it," Buckhalter said. "The elephant is in the room, but you don't want to say anything about it. I'm just confused as to why this particular festival was taken off the agenda but you allowed Grillin' on the River to stay on the agenda on more than three occasions."
Castleberry said he had several reasons for not funding Juneteenth, most notably financial concerns.
"The reason I did not support it is for some of the issues discussed, but I think also if you go back and look at the details of the different proposals we've had for Juneteenth ... the numbers don't add up. Complete information is not being given. There's a bit of a personal issue," Castleberry said. "I don't like somebody coming in here and telling me how I think and why I think things and to accuse me of things that are absolutely not true. It's just a poorly managed event. They waste huge amounts of money and they don't put anything into it themselves. They go around with a bag asking for a bunch of money for it."
Byrd echoed earlier suggestions of a vendetta against Brooks.
'The person who is not big enough to overcome a racial issue ... has no place on this board. If you do that you're on the wrong doggone board. You'd rather kill a whole festival than to be able to do what we've done for years," Byrd said. "We put a lot of money into Pilgrimage. We had what? $80 to $90 thousand? No one complained about that much money being put into Pilgrimage. It's primarily for the white folks in the city, but we don't complain about that. Mrs. (CVB Executive Director) Carpenter has a blank check she writes to Pilgrimage, but yet we can't give $8,000 to Juneteenth."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.