Amid accusations of playing “politics” with taxpayers” dollars, the Convention and Visitors Bureau voted to fund three festivals Monday and against funding a southside family reunion.
The board also rescinded a letter to attorney and former board member, David Sanders, that asked for a refund for some legal work he was requested to do, according to board members.
The board voted unanimously to give Artesia Days $8,000 — double what the event received last year, but $2,000 short of what organizers requested. The board also voted unanimously to give the Crawford Cotton Boll Festival $4,000.
Southside/Townsend Park Blues Festival organizers requested $22,900 this year, but the board voted 5-1 to give them $12,000. Board Chairwoman Whirlie Byrd cast the “no” vote because she had earlier recommended giving the event $16,000, she said.
The board also unanimously rejected a request for $1,200 in funding from the Seventh Annual Southside Reunion. Byrd, an at-large city appointee, at first abstained because “that”s my neighborhood,” she said.
During discussion about festival funding, Lowndes County hotel representative Mark Castleberry said the event-funding process was “arbitrary” and “peculiar” to Columbus.
“We need to be systematized,” he went on to say of the process.
Historic Homes representative DeWitt Hicks Jr. said the board”s philosophy was and should be to help events get started, then let them fend for themselves.
But Byrd argued that how much each event received should be decided on a case-by-case basis.
During discussion about funding for the southside festival, Byrd went on to accuse Castleberry of bringing in “political things” when he raised questions about the event”s funding.
“Don”t gripe about things you have a problem with,” she said.
When he replied that he wasn”t being “political,” Byrd said, “That”s what you”re probably thinking.”
Castleberry answered: “I think we need to qualify (the funding process) so (the discussion) doesn”t deteriorate into accusations of politics.”
Despite the debate, board members expressed agreement that the care-free spending days of previous boards were over.
“I think there”s agreement among all of us that we should be a little more conservative about how we spend the money,” said at-large city appointee Nadia Dale.
After voting on festival funding, Byrd raised the question of hiring another attorney to review the work done by David Sanders, who has worked for the board.
Sanders had been paid about $17,000 for his services, which included work done by another attorney, David Dunn, to close the deal on the CVB”s new office, according to board members.
In executive session last meeting, the board had authorized Byrd to send Sanders a letter asking for a refund, which she did not send because she was unsure of some details, she said.
Castleberry said the issue was a governance issue that should have been corrected by the previous board.
“It”s behind us, and today”s today,” he added.
After discussion, the board decided not to hire a new attorney to review work done by Sanders, then voted 5-0 with Dale abstaining to rescind the motion to send the letter to Sanders.
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