Birney Imes: Finding honor in compromise

October 23, 2010 11:06:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Finding honor in compromise 




Monday afternoon, in a room that looked like a set from Gone with the Wind, Dewitt Hicks called to order the monthly board meeting of the Columbus/Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau. Sitting at the head of the dining room table just as one of the home''s early occupants, Civil War Gen. Stephen D. Lee, might have done a century and a half or so earlier, Hicks and his board heard requests from a stream of supplicants that included Mayor Robert Smith (Unity Picnic), race promoter Johnny Stokes (Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series), barbecue contest organizer Harvey Myrick (Grillin'' on the River), Learnerd Dickerson (Dream 365) and industrial recruiter Joe Higgins (The Link). 


The week before, in response to news of a likely cut in funding from the CVB, Higgins had touted the primacy of his organization and made threats about what he would do if he was cut. The Link CEO would have better spent his time kicking fire ant hills in the Prairie. Public response to his comments was not sympathetic. 


The standing-room-only crowd Monday was there to offer support for their causes. A couple of bankers and an insurance man were there for Higgins; on the CVB side Tennessee Williams promoter Brenda Caradine, Supervisor Leroy Brooks and Artesia Mayor Sonny Smith, all who promote festivals funded by the CVB, were on hand. 


Though the meeting was long and sometimes tedious, there were moments of enlightenment. Harvey recounted how he spent last weekend in Kansas City inviting barbecue teams to Columbus next April; Ben Shelton of Memphis told how former rivals, Johnny Stokes and Chuck Cook, are now successfully running dirt track races together and Hicks cross examined an uncomfortable Mayor Smith about where proceeds of a 2-percent hotel tax designated to pay for the convention center renovation are going now that debt has been paid off (the $200,000 is going into the city''s general fund). 


Finally, it came Higgins'' turn to speak. It had been a long wait and the Link CEO, distinguished in a gray suit, approached the mike. Before he could begin, Hicks launched into a soliloquy on the merits of the CVB. Higgins sat back down. Then Hicks summoned Caradine, who expounded on the global importance to Columbus of Tennessee Williams'' 100th birthday next year. Brooks and Sanders were not called. 


After a time, Hicks interrupted Caradine, who was in full flight, and welcomed Higgins, who make a low-keyed but compelling case for his organization, touting its successes and noting that workers on projects landed by the Link are big contributors to the restaurant tax. 


At issue was an unwritten understanding that the Link would get 15 percent of revenues from the restaurant tax. The proposed allotment this year was around 12 percent and thus the uproar from Higgins. With the exception of John Bean, no one on the Link board acknowledged knowing about the 15 percent agreement. Maybe someone should check the minutes. 


Whirlie Byrd was the lone voice of dissent, objecting to the compromise reached earlier in the day between delegations from both groups (the original budget earmarked $160,000 for the Link; the compromise provided $178,500.). Byrd demanded to know where the extra $18,500 was coming from. To her credit she refused to budge without an explanation. Whether you agreed with her or not, you had to admire her tenacity. If only more members of boards would follow her lead, insisting on clarity and standing against the majority when they felt the situation merited such. 


Board member Dixie Butler chastised Higgins saying she didn''t appreciate the disparaging comments he''d made the week before about the CVB. Addressing Higgins directly, Butler said, "I feel like we got knocked pretty hard." She went on to say she and the CVB have worked hard for years making a better community and that she hoped he understood that. "There is honor in compromise," Butler said, quoting her late husband, Carl. To everyone''s relief compromise carried the day. 


Clearly this controversy created more heat than the CVB board is accustomed to, and they quickly put the Link matter to rest, voting 8-1 for the $178,500 allocation. The board also expressed a desire to reach an understanding with the Link in order to avoid a repeat of this year''s controversy. 




Dinner on Gunshoot Road 


Later that evening a friend invited me to the monthly community potluck supper at the Steens Community Center. It''s a lovely tradition, small town America at its best. Grilled chicken and ribs along with meat loaf were the main events. That, good fellowship and an endless table of homemade desserts. 


I found myself across the table from Supervisor John and Jerri Holliman, Jerri grew up in Steens and John back up the road in Rural Hill. When I mentioned that years ago, I''d gone to the Rural Hill community center on a Saturday night to hear bluegrass music, John brightened, saying his mother, Adeen, had played the fiddle there. 


The road that runs from Highway 50 into Steens is Gunshoot Road. What about that name? Story is, John said, two men driving wagons met on that road, which at the time must have had only one lane. Neither man would yield so they dismounted and settled it as disagreements were often settled in that time -- they shot it out. 


How about a Compromise Avenue? While it may not have as much zip as Gunshoot, it does have a nice ring to it. 


Compromise. Yes, let''s resolve to have more of it. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.