Brooks no longer leading Juneteenth, will still be involved

February 25, 2014 9:25:49 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Lowndes County Supervisor Leroy Brooks started the Afro-American Culture Organization, which has coordinated Columbus' annual Juneteenth festival, 32 years ago and had been its president since then. He announced Monday the dissolution of the group and the formation of another -- Juneteenth-Columbus, Inc.  


Brooks made the statement during Monday's monthly Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors meeting. The new non-profit organization consists of the same members of the now-defunct group, he said, but he will not lead it and will no longer go before the CVB board asking for funding for the annual Juneteenth festival. 


The move was necessitated by the adoption of an ethics policy the board passed last June, which prohibits elected officials, CVB employees, board members or immediate family members of those groups from requesting public funds from the CVB. Brooks spoke before board members to inform them that he was not the CEO of the new non-profit and to have it recorded on the meeting minutes that all necessary documentation to receive funding as Juneteenth-Columbus, Inc. was in place. 


Brooks said he will still be involved with the group and with coordinating the festival "to some degree."  


"When you say 'Juneteenth,' people will still associate that with Leroy," Brooks said. "The CVB just didn't want elected officials signing checks and being the face of organizations." 


Sylvester Harris will serve as the group's president and its primary contact person will be Cindy Lawrence, who also leads the county's emergency management agency. 


There was no board action required on Brooks' appearance because the board already appropriated $10,000 in grant funding for Juneteenth and 10 other events last August. At that time, the board approved a recommendation to eliminate tourism grants, which awarded up to $15,000 to an event but had stipulations on how much was required to be spent on advertising and limited entertainment spending to 25 percent. This year, all events received $10,000 quality-of-life grant funding. 


Festival organizers can only use money for advertising, promotion and entertainment but there are no limits on how much of the grant can be spent on each category. They also no longer have to make presentations before the board and request funding because the festivals have already been approved, whereas in previous fiscal years organizers had to do so to be eligible. Only organizers of events that have not previously received CVB funding must come before the board. 


The CVB board voted not to approve quality-of-life grant funding for Juneteenth last year when it was still sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Organization after Brooks rejected tourism grant funding because of the financial cap on entertainment. 




King's first meeting 


Monday's meeting also marked the first for new board member Lester King, a retired partner with Starkville-based garage door business S&K Door & Specialty Company. King was appointed by the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors and is one of its four representatives. 


He replaced Leon Ellis, who filled an unexpired term vacated by George Swales in 2011 that ended last month. Ellis did not seek re-instatement and supervisors appointed King Feb. 3 in a rare 2-0 vote. Board President Harry Sanders and Supervisor Bill Brigham voted for King's appointment while Brooks and Jeff Smith abstained, saying they wanted to meet King and speak to him about the position before changing their vote to be in favor of him at a future meeting. Supervisor John Holliman was absent from the meeting due to illness, meaning a motion passed with only two out of five supervisors in support because four out of five present for a meeting is enough for a quorum and abstentions count toward the majority. 


King's wife, Jan, held the Bible while Sanders swore him in. 




CVB operating in the black through 4 months 


In other business, the board approved financial reports for December 2013 and January. Board Treasurer Bart Wise reported an income of $128,819.89 and expenses of $123,170.26 last December. Last month, the CVB showed $125,513.79 in income and $103,358.54 in expenses. Through four months of the fiscal year, the CVB has brought in $663,862.39 and spent $624,100.13, leaving a balance of $39,762.26.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.