The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau held its regular meeting Monday and, as almost always seems to be the case, it created more questions than it answered.
The big issue before the board was the propriety of allowing the elected officials who appoint the board members to solicit funds for festivals they operate.
As reported in The Dispatch in December, this practice is virtually unheard of anywhere else in Mississippi, mainly because it represents a clear case of conflict of interests.
Yet it’s been standard operating procedure here.
Monday, the appeal to conscience seemed to have finally given the CVB board the resolve to amend its bylaws to end this deplorable practice.
An indication of this came early in the board meeting, when the board voted not to fund the “Grilling on the River” because a board member, Harvey Myrick, served on the event’s board.
In November, Myrick told the board he had stepped down as the chairman of “Grilling,” but remained on the board. Myrick also recused himself from the board’s discussion of funding the event. The board tabled discussion on the funding at that meeting.
Monday, the board voted not to fund the “Grilling on the River” because of Myrick’s connection to the event. The board’s reasoning was valid: Funding an event operated by a board member represented a clear conflict of interest.
In light of that ruling, it appeared as though the board was prepared to take a principled stand on the bigger issue of funding the events of the elected officials who make CVB board appointments.
A motion from Leon Ellis to prohibit elected officials from solicited funds was seconded by Rissa Lawrence. Lawrence later made an amendment to the motion stipulating that the changes would not go into effect until next year.
In the ensuing discussion, the board’s resolve — like paper clothes in a rainstorm — quickly fell apart.
A motion was made and seconded to table the discussion because, let’s face it, the CVB Board is an old hand at equivocating.
The motion argued that a final decision on a change to the bylaws not be made until the board met with festival organizers. Presumably, the meeting will be held with elected officials who regularly solicit CVB funds, a group dominated by county supervisor Leroy Brooks. Brooks has been the most outspoken advocate for maintaining this odd bit of status quo that allows this practice.
Brooks said festival organizers should have the right to speak to the CVB privately before the board makes any decisions.
Brooks has said the festival organizers affected would be willing to step aside from their roles in the festivals under certain conditions.
He advocated a meeting with the board to discuss those conditions. Brooks has demanded this sort of meeting before.
In the December CVB meeting, Brooks took board members to task for even considering stopping festival funding for elected officials, comparing those board members who took a principled stand against the practice to those who violently protested the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi in 1962.
He also suggested that festival organizers meet with the board “in a back room” without the media present.
Brooks tactics are inexcusable on two fronts: First, introducing the specter of racism is unjustified and counter-productive. Second, suggesting a “back-room deal,” is patently illegal. The board treads dangerous ground on this point.
The vote to table the discussion passed by a 5-4 vote, essentially kicking the can down the road until a Feb. 12 meeting with festival organizers.
Curiously, Myrick was among the five who voted to table the discussion.
For board members Bart Wise and Rissa Lawrence, the vote to table the motion appeared to be an astounding example of self-contradiction.
“If we are going to vote against Harvey, I think we should do this fairly and vote (to eliminate elected officials from festival funding),” said Wise, the board treasurer.
It’s a valid question that will continue to hang over the board.
The board’s conciliatory overtures to Brooks et al., is an indication not of fairness, but of weakness.
Funding festivals for elected officials who make board appointments is not a matter to be negotiated. No conditions should apply.
The Board recognized a conflict of interest where Myrick’s event was concerned and acted appropriately.
No amount of discussion will change the material facts.
It is wrong for the CVB to fund festivals run by those who appoint board members.
The CVB should gird its loins and stand, finally, on principle.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.