April 17, 2013 9:44:19 AM
Nathan Gregory - firstname.lastname@example.org
A lack of funding from the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau will not keep Juneteenth from being held for a 17th consecutive year, festival co-founder and Lowndes County supervisor Leroy Brooks said Tuesday.
The CVB board of trustees voted 5-4 in favor of striking a motion to reconsider Juneteenth as a quality-of-life event from its agenda during its Monday meeting. Members Rissa 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.
Reversing course from a previous report in which festival chair Cindy Lawrence said there would be no Juneteenth this year if no CVB funding was granted, Brooks said he felt "compelled" to try and make it happen.
"I was disappointed in the board's action, but it is what it is. So, we're going to contact businesses and other people to try and raise the money and press forward with the festival to maintain a consistency in the community and not let the people down," Brooks said. "I could easily just walk away and say I don't want to worry with all the stress and all that, but for almost 30 years I've tried to do what the people want in the community, so we're going to join hands with those that's willing to support us and try to get the money raised."
Brooks said he disagreed with comments Castleberry made during the meeting in which he questioned the thoroughness of the grant proposals and voiced personal issues.
"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," Castleberry said Monday. "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."
Brooks said the Juneteenth board completed "impeccable" financial reports for previous festivals.
"If your reports are not right they always have the option of not giving you the portion of your money, because you only get a portion up front. It's not true about the accountability or the transparency," Brooks said. "We have a very good festival. People come from all over the Southeast, so for Mark Castleberry to suggest that, but then more importantly he went on to say he didn't like me personally. I assume that since the rest of them voted with him they don't like me either, but it's not about me and that's a hell of a way to govern strictly on personality."
Brooks said each festival committee member would play a role in fundraising. He admitted raising the $12,000 he believed he would need to host another festival will be a difficult task.
"Even when you have all the money you need, it's really stressful, so to have to start from scratch, (it will) become even more stressful. At this juncture I feel compelled to try to do it for the sake of the community," Brooks said. "I think if we can raise about $12,000 we'll be able to get one major act, some local bands and gospel groups like we always have. We may have to scale back on the amount of money we spend on promotion, but Juneteenth usually sells itself."
Brooks said this year's festival would begin on a Thursday night and continue the following Friday and Saturday, as it has in the past. When asking the CVB board to consider providing an $8,000 quality-of-life grant, Juneteenth officials mentioned the possibility of scaling the festival down to one day depending on their budget.
In December, Brooks rejected a $15,000 tourism grant the CVB offered the event because of new guidelines that only allow for 25 percent of that funding to be used for entertainment. Quality-of-life events do not dictate how event planners spend what they receive. Brooks said that in the past, all CVB festival funding went toward entertainment and promotion.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.