CVB backs down: Board tables motion to change festival funding bylaw

January 29, 2013 10:04:02 AM

Jeff Clark - [email protected]


The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau tabled a motion that would have eliminated elected officials from receiving festival grant funding during its Monday meeting.  


The motion, made by Leon Ellis, would have closed the door on any elected official being part of a festival or quality of life committee.  


The motion was seconded by Rissa Lawrence, who amended the motion with a startup date of Oct. 1, 2013.  


Ellis' motion was made after Lowndes County District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, organizer of the annual Juneteenth Festival, sent a letter to the board suggesting they re-negotiate the amount of funding and the way the funding can be used.  


According to the terms in the letter, elected officials would no longer appear before the CVB board requesting grant funds but they would remain on the festival committees.  


Brooks said he and other festival organizers would agree to start paying entertainers by check, which is already a stipulation for festival clearance reports.  


In return, Brooks is asking the CVB to allow festival organizers to use all of their money for entertainment and for festivals to be funded at $15,000 and quality of life events to be funded at $12,000. Under the board's current guidelines, festivals can be funded up to $15,000 and quality of life events can be funded up to $8,000. While all quality of life money can be used for entertainment, only 25 percent of festival money may be used for entertainment. 


"I make a motion we cease funding for anyone with a festival who is an elected official," Ellis said. "This includes the mayor, councilmen and board of supervisors. When you have festival organizers writing checks to family members, it makes for suspicious accounting." 


Brooks' letter is in response to the December board meeting, where he declined $15,000 for his festival. Brooks demanded the festival grant committee meet with himself and other festival organizers, including District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith, to discuss the committee's newly-implemented guidelines. Monday, Brooks said he had never heard from committee chairman Mark Castleberry. 


"The only reason we haven't met was because of the holidays and I have a business to run," Castleberry said. 


CVB Board Chairman Dewitt Hicks, who at the December meeting said he was a "longtime friend of Leroy Brooks," encouraged the committee to take up the requests. 


"It seems only fair for the grant committee to look at these requests and make their recommendations," Hicks said. 


Board members Bernard Buckhalter and Whirllie Byrd also suggested the committee again meet with the festival organizers. 


"We should meet with them," Buckhalter said. "They feel like they didn't have any input." 


CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter, who met with Brooks and other organizers in late 2012, said she, too, would meet with the festival organizers once more. 


"I have no problem meeting with anyone," Carpenter said. "But we've already funded six events and I don't think it's fair to change the rules." 


The discussion on the elected officials began after the board voted to no longer fund Grilling on the River because of the association between the festival and board member at large, Harvey Myrick. 


Although Myrick had stepped down as festival organizer and was using the Lowndes Community Foundation as its fiduciary, some board members weren't comfortable with his connection with Grilling on the River. 


"If we are going to vote against Harvey," I think we should do this fairly and vote (to eliminate elected officials from festival funding)," board treasurer Bart Wise said. 


After going toe-to-toe with Brooks at the December meeting over festival funding, Myrick motioned for the board to table the discussion. 


"There's no reason we can't meet with Supervisor Brooks and do things the right way," Myrick said.  


Myrick's motion passed 5-4 with Ellis, Wise, Castleberry and Lawrence voting against it. 


The festival grant committee will meet with festival organizers Feb. 12 at 6 p.m.