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CVB to Continue with Old Grant Guidelines Until End of Fiscal Year

Swales appeals for unity

Higgins: Link will help Clay, West Point, Starkville “welcome at the table”

[Due to the extreme length of the meeting, this article will be broken into two pieces. This week’s installment will focus on the first half of the meeting. Next week I will cover the verbal melees between Mark Castleberry and Leroy Brooks and between Nancy Carpenter and Whirllie Byrd, as well as Bernard Buckhalter’s attempt to cut Link funding. – Brian Jones]

The January 23 meeting of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau saw several pleas for funding, discussion of grant guidelines, board members once again discussing taking money out of the Link’s budget and squabbles over credit card usage.

Swales praises Carpenter, appeals for unity
President George Swales opened the meeting by singing the praises of director Nancy Carpenter and making an appeal for unity.
“Today I want to address a couple of points, and the first point is to appreciate the value of the assets that we have sometimes,” Swales said. “At the risk of totally embarrassing Nancy Carpenter – I think she can take it – I would just like to point out a few times. Carpenter began her career in banking in Jackson, where she stayed for 20 years and rose to the point of being vice president of marketing and sales management. She taught bank marketing and sales nationwide. She served in a community service role in the Hinds County mental health facility issues, Mississippi State University Alumni Association, the board of trustees of First United Methodist Church, youth Sunday school teacher. She came to Columbus in 1990 as vice president for marketing at First Columbus National Bank and served as regional vice president at Deposit Guaranty National Band and Amsouth. She played a community service role on the board of directors of Columbus High School Boosters, was 1998 Parent of the Year in the Columbus Municipal School District and a member of the executive committee of the United States Military Academy Parents’ Club. She is currently a board member of the Lowndes Community Foundation, is a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church, where she serves on the Youth Committee and Sanctuary Committee. She is on the board of directors of the Columbus Air Force Base Community Council, she is an honorary commander at Columbus Air Force Base. She served eight years as the director of the Columbus Historic Foundation. From that role she merged into tourism in 2008 as the project director for the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation. Since January 2011 she has served as executive director for CVB. My point was that we have an asset that did not fall off the potato truck last night. She has the relationships, the communication skills, the style, the personality, everything that is needed to be the executive director of the CVB. I would ask that we stop to retune our perspective and recognize that before we don’t have that asset anymore. Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.
“My second point,” Swales said. “I don’t know of any place people can go unless they go united. You’re probably tired of hearing me say that. An advocacy style of leadership is the only style of leadership that I’ve ever known. It’s the only style that I know that works. I can do no more than implore us to put down our axes, to dull the edges of our various picks and get on board with the notion that the only way we serve Columbus and Lowndes is in unity. I implore, one more time, for us to do that.”

American Wind Symphony Orchestra
Doris Hardy, Glenn Lautzenhiser and Rufus Ward asked the CVB to consider donating $15,000 towards hosting a performance of the American Wind Symphony Orchestra. Hardy began with a brief PowerPoint presentation describing the event.
“The Golden Triangle and the surrounding area have the opportunity to welcome the American Wind Symphony Orchestra to our community this upcoming summer,” Hardy said. “For this event to be a great success we need your assistance. For 53 years this orchestra has been making musical headlines along the waterways of the United States, the Caribbean and northern Europe, in places like Paris, London and Leningrad. The orchestra travels on Point-Counterpoint II. It is a 195 feet long, 38 feet wide and includes a central stage for performance, and art gallery and a small theater.”
A large part of the AWSO’s mission is educational outreach, she said.
“For 47 of the 53 years they have been in existence, they let their musicians go and live with local families at each stop,” she said. “The local musicians, who will be students, will be chosen by the students’ band directors and they will benefit from this once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Phillips-Garth Foundation has provided some seed money, but much more is needed to cover the $80,000 cost for the event, Hardy said. “We are asking for $15,000 from the CVB,” Hardy said. “The balance of $65,000 will be funded through grassroots contributions, industrial and manufacturing companies, different groups and organizations, private donors, waterway users and more. The performance will be of no cost to the general public. It’s wholesome family entertainment. There is something for every gender and every age. The event incorporates a wide area of east Mississippi and west Alabama. Finally, the musicians staying at local homes will offer our youth individual training at a world-class level, and, if the community reaches its funding goal, a musical instrument, in this case an oboe, will be purchased and donated to a local school. An instrument like this can cost up to $8,000 and would be beyond the budgeted funds of many school districts.”
The orchestra will also break up into quartets and perform throughout the community, she said, including at several churches.
Lautzenhiser said the AWSO has visited Columbus before and drew a large crowd.
“They were here about 10 or 11 years ago and we got 10,000 people out for that event,” Lautzenhiser said. “I think 12,000 is a very realistic number this time. One thing I’d like to emphasize is that they are going to be in the homes of band students in West Point, Starkville, Columbus, New Hope, West Lowndes, Caledonia, Lamar County and Pickens County. They will be here for four days and nights and will be giving individual lessons to these band students. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“They will also break into quartets or small chamber groups,” added Rufus Ward. “During the time they are here they will be holding smaller performances all over Columbus. It will be one large-scale performance and then many smaller performances.”
Carpenter explained that the board had earlier voted to grant the concert $5,000.
“A couple of months ago I brought it before the board and my recommendation was to fund at $10,000,” Carpenter said. “[Dewitt Hicks] made the motion and it died for lack of a second. Then it was voted on that we would give them $5,000, and that’s where it stands right now.”
“At that point in time it was just a general proposal and did not have a lot of details,” Hardy interjected.
Lautzenhiser said that they are seeking funding from Starkville and West Point as well.
“We didn’t have the facts the first time that we have now,” Hicks said. “I renew my motion that we fund them at $10,000.”
Mark Castleberry seconded his motion.
“In your presentation you said you needed $80,000,” said Harvey Myrick. “Is that going to the orchestra or is that the total budget?”
“That is the total budget,” Hardy said. “There is a $7,500 down payment to the orchestra, and then an additional $7,500. They are not a for-profit endeavor.”
“The orchestra itself is funded by the Hinds Foundation,” Ward said. “Basically we are paying expenses.”
“Advertising is also part of it,” Lautzenhiser said. “There will also be a very large fireworks display after the concert.”
“Did we offer some kind of in-kind advertising?” Swales asked.
“We did,” Carpenter said. “The $5,000 came out of the marketing budget because there was no money in a grant fund. We’ve got the digital billboard, and I told you that we would allow a couple of months…we get 1,200 looks a day, and we share that with Juneteenth and Market Street.” [The billboard goes for $1,698 per month. – Brian Jones] “I’m concerned that we’re setting a precedent,” said Bernard Buckhalter. “We funded the person at one set amount, and now they’re coming back and doing another presentation and asking us to reconsider what we’ve already done. Don’t be surprised when other festivals start doing the same thing.”
“We never made a presentation,” Hardy said. “But a presentation was made for the funding,” Buckhalter said. “I did present it earlier,” Carpenter said.
“I think we’ve got to start looking at things on the merits,” Hicks said. “This is an event that is very rare. It’ll bring in 10,000 to 12,000 people. We don’t have 10,000 or 12,000 people for the Pilgrimage. We don’t have that for the Pilgrimage. This is helping schools and students and is a splendid investment. I think we need to support it. We’ve got to act sensibly.” “The pot for grants is low,” said Bart Wise.
“I understand,” Hicks said. “But we can amend our budget. We’re pretty high for the fiscal year. How much do we have right now?
“You’ve got to look at the line of credit we have…” Wise said.
“I’m talking about strictly county and city income,” Hicks said.
“We’re twenty-something hundred dollars to the red,” Wise said. [Wise is CVB treasurer. – Brian Jones] “For the whole year?” Hicks asked. “What was it last month? Weren’t we way ahead?”
“In December we were behind about $8,000,” Wise said. “We’ll get to that when we get to the financials.”
“I understand that, but we’ve got this before us now,” Hicks said. “We’ve got the bridge we’ve got to fund, we’ve got other things that are expensive,” Wise said.
“We overspent on this building, we all know,” Hicks said. [I believe the price tag on the new offices is around $800,000. – Brian Jones] “We have seven fishing tournaments that we’re sponsoring, and that pot is getting low,” Carpenter said. “I would not suggest the initial money come out of grants, it’s just not there. If you voted to approve it would have to come out of special projects. The money in grants is just not there.”
“I have concerns behind Mr. Buckhalter,” Swales said. “We have to face a pretty ugly situation. As surely as this is approved, it’s going to be here they come.”
“Bring it on,” Hicks said.
“It seems like there could be an exception, because we did not hear a presentation,” Whirllie Byrd said. “Perhaps if we had heard a presentation we could have had a more informed vote at that time. I think it warrants more than $5,000.”
“The pie is only so big and if we don’t have the money, we don’ t have the money,” Castleberry said.
The $10,000 concert funding failed on a 5-4 vote, with Swales, Myrick, Wise, Lawrence and Buckhalter voting no. However, the board unanimously voted to donate in-kind advertising.

Joe Max Higgins
Joe Max Higgins, CEO of the Link, reported on the Link’s recent partnership with West Point and Clay County. The West Point/Clay County Community Growth Alliance has been without a leader since last September, when director Jeff Rowell stepped down. Higgins announced that the Link will create a position in Clay County to handle their economic development issues.
“I want to make you aware that Friday our board unanimously approved an alliance with the West Point Growth Alliance,” Higgins said. “You’ve probably read it in the paper by now, but I wanted you to hear it from us. We’ve been talking with them for the past three months. They expressed an interest in us helping them with their economic development much like we do for Columbus and Lowndes County. We went through the math, we decided it would be a good deal for them and for us.
“In no way will any of the funds that you pay, the city pays, the county pays, subsidize an effort that isn’t in Lowndes County,” Higgins said. “We worked with our accountant to develop a budget where we split costs out and staff assignments and the whole nine yards. We’re going to hire a staffer that will represent Clay County. Our target is to have someone on board around July 1. Our board approved a general idea of what we would do and how we would do it and what the compensation would be. We’re working now with a Jackson law firm to spell out a definitive agreement.
“Thirty or forty years ago the three counties tried to do an industrial park together,” Higgins said. “This is the first step of that logical deal. Two of the counties involved in this own the airport, two of the counties involved in this own the waste authority. These counties partner on a lot of things. We think this is a logical step. This is something we can be part of in the region. Clay County last month had the highest unemployment of any county in the state of Mississippi. That does not bode well for any of us. I would like to see Starkville at the table, too, but we decided that West Point’s needs were now, today. Starkville has a gentleman who runs their problem and does a fine job. They don’t have the same needs West Point has, but if they want to come to the table and figure out how they fit into this I think everybody on the Columbus team and the West Point team will say the more the merrier.”
Higgins said there was a three-year commitment.
“We think that’s enough to give it time to work,” Higgins said.
The board took no action.

Grant award criteria
The board discussed the changing criteria for grant proposals. The board has previously tried to revise the criteria for festivals seeking funding, but backed down after objections from organizers. Now they are trying to figure out how to move forward.
“I was chairman of the subcommittee that looked into changing the criteria,” Castleberry said. “The issue was time. We did meet and started by going over the former program. We used it as a template, and then we came full circle and decided that was not the best template and that we needed to go back to the new format and make modifications there. We just ran out of gas. We also had to figure out what to do with this upcoming meeting. We thought it would be unfair to upcoming presenters to say the guidelines were modified.”
“The bottom line is that the festivals have told us if they have to use the money for advertising it will kill the festivals,” Hicks said. “I just want to understand what we’re going for. Are the presenters today under new or old guidelines?” “Old,” said Lawrence. “That’s what they’ve all been told.”
“Speaking as an organizer myself, starting with Dream 365 we tried to ram the new guidelines down people’s throat and it didn’t work,” Myrick said. “We plan to have new guidelines, but it may be as late as next fiscal year. We need time to adjust.”
“I feel like the grant money can be used for entertainment,” Buckhalter said. “There’s nothing in the guidelines stating that it cannot be.”
“I disagree,” Lawrence said. “It is not listed as eligible.”
“The people that are presenting today are not going to be held to the new standard,” said Nadia Dale. “Is there a chance that the people presenting later in the year will be held to a different standard than we’re using now?”
“No change until the end of the fiscal year,” Myrick said.
The board unanimously approved keeping the old guidelines in place until October 1.

Complete blow-by-blow coverage of the entire meeting will be covered by Brian Jones in next week’s Packet.

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