Byrd, Carpenter exchange barbs over credit card
Buckhalter tries to cut Link funding
Requests for funding
Three festivals came before the board to ask for funding: Grilling on the River, the Market Street Festival and Juneteenth. [Prior to the festival presentations, Myrick, who founded Grilling on the River, announced that he was no longer the organization’s president nor was he on the event’s executive board. He left the room during Grilling on the River’s presentation, returning as Ms. Brislin began to speak about the Market Street Festival. – Brian Jones]
Both the Grilling on the River (presented by Chuck Cook) and Market Street Festival (presented by Main Street Director Amber Brislin) presentations passed uneventfully and with little comment by the board.
The peace did not last, however, as Castleberry and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks clashed during the Juneteenth presentation.
Cindy Lawrence made a brief presentation on Juneteenth, asking for $15,000 in CVB funds.
“Even though our budget is tentative in nature, funding will determine what we will be able to do this year,” she said. “At the same time, it’s entertainment that attracts vendors. Vendors know if you’ve got good entertainment, people will come. The festival will last three days. This year, since we have a new community center at Sim Scott, we will hold the full festival there. There will be activities for children as well as gospel and blues entertainment. The entertainment has not been finalized as it depends on funding from this board.”
Brooks explained the importance of the festival and how the profit is spent.
“This is the only place I come and I get nervous,” Brooks joked as he took the podium. “Juneteenth is in its sixteenth year. We have a large crowd. It is important, and hopefully we can get this…it is very important, and I think we talk about Juneteenth…it is a very historic event. Because of communication and other things, slaves did not know they were free. When you look now, it’s a major activity. We’re hanging our hat on something from a historical perspective. We use this money to try to make it a worthwhile event. When you help us sponsor this festival, you also help us to alleviate some other things in our community.”
Brooks showed photographs from previous Juneteenth festivals while trying to explain why it was important.
“We have some of the best entertainers that you can get when it comes to rhythm and blues,” he said. “We’ve found our niche. We tried other styles, but people really seem to enjoy the rhythm and blues. Entertainment impacts the number of vendors. The first thing vendors want to know is who you’ve got, because if you’ve got the entertainment they can come and sell their product. We normally get 30-35 vendors. Last year we saw less vendors, probably because of the economy. It’s more than a festival, it’s an experience. It’s in that same spirit of the slaves learning they were free.
“We have a couple of projects we use the money from Juneteenth for,” Brooks said. “One is the Next Generation Mini-farm. It’s three acres over on Eighth Avenue South, behind Newell Paper Company. We use it for a farm. Having grown up on a farm I understand things like work ethic and responsibility. It became my dream some years ago and I put it on the shelf. We eventually got an initial grant from the Foundation for the Mid-South to start this. The kids come out, they do the whole thing. We had a big greens harvest one year, and we actually made home deliveries to people in my church van. I’m trying to teach these kids about work so maybe they won’t break into someone’s house. The other thing we do is the entrepreneurship. I take them into a classroom setting and teach them about things like balancing their checkbook…just the spirit of entrepreneurship.
“The other thing we do is the Minority Leadership and Training Program,” he said. “This program meets one a month for nine months at the Link office. It’s a 33-hour curriculum. We try to bring in young African-Americans…I say young, but it’s age 25-55. They come in for this 33-hour academic curriculum, and they go to Washington DC for the Congressional Black Caucus legislative forum. After 28 years on the board, I understand the void of leadership in, perhaps in the total community but certainly in the African-American community. I’m trying to develop a network of young professionals who understand the dynamics of this community.
“That’s where the money goes for Juneteenth,” Brooks said. “We do not put it in our pocket, we do not squander it. We ask for $15,000, and, as grandma used to say, 99% won’t do. The money that comes from here and the money from the vendors makes it work. We have to prep the site, we have to do a host of things to make this thing work. Without a Juneteenth, I think it would be a tragic situation for our community and certainly for the people who were looking forward to it.”
“You say the majority of the profit goes to those two areas,” Rissa Lawrence said. “According to your expenses and income from 2011 you have it at exactly zero.”
“Yeah,” Brooks said, “ but what I do is over the years…one year we do one thing, the next we do another, I’m waiting on you to figure out what you want. We kind of don’t know what to do. Once you tell us what it is you need, I can assure you we will follow the guidelines. For years and years it was one way, then it was another way.”
“If it’s profit you can do whatever you want to with it,” Lawrence responded. “But if it’s money you didn’t spend, that’s different.”
“We spend not just on this but, like I said, on other community activities we try to support,” Brooks said. “We have been incorporated since 1985, and despite what you may have read in the press we are a very viable organization.”
“Who is Mr. Sam?” Lawrence asked. “What’s his last name?”
“That’s just what we call him,” Brooks said. “I don’t know, I guess…”
“Is it the same Mr. Sam that performed at the Crawford festival?” Lawrence asked.
“It probably was,” Brooks said. “He’s from Memphis.”
“You need to talk to that organizer,” Lawrence said. “They only paid him $400 and you’ve got him down for $2,500.”
“If you’ll look down at the bottom you’ll see that this is a tentative budget,” Brooks said.
“I just wanted you to be aware of that so you can save some money,” Lawrence said.
“Anyone who does a festival will tell you that what an entertainer will do something for for Buckhalter and what he’ll do for us is different,” Brooks said. “That is the nature of the entertainment business. Mr. Sam may come out of Memphis and his band may come out of North Carolina. They want their money before they get on the stage and sing because they’ve dealt with shady promoters in the past and they don’t get paid. Before they sing, you’ve got to pay them. We have an accounting, we get them to sign, there’s a witness to it…All of this is tentative, when we get a chance to negotiate down, we will.”
“Do you get contracts?” Lawrence asked.
“We will,” Brook said. “We use an agent out of Macon, Georgia. He gets all the contracts, we sign the contract. At the beginning we have to send 50 percent, we send cashier’s checks. Once they arrive, before they perform they want their money. We maintain a contract on every entertainment…we can go back to the time we started, we still have those contracts. We are very tedious about paperwork. I can assure you, I’ve been through the fire enough to know to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. They’ll never get Leroy Brooks on a technicality.”
“Do you have a line item on the expenses that shows where the profit is spent?” asked Bart Wise. “Like kind of a line item of where the profit is spent?”
“We have one,” Brooks said. “But again, if you want that as part of it, we’ll do that. What I’m saying is this, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If you’re going to require it of Juneteenth, then you need to require every organization to show their profit. I don’t understand why you need to know where the profit goes. If you want that, we’ll do that. The only thing I’m asking you is that I don’t want any board member to single out the Afro-American Culture Organization because of any other agenda. If you get written guidelines that says this is how you do it, then I promise you we’ll do it.”
“If you’ll let us manage our own board, we’d appreciate it,” Castleberry said.
“What I’m saying to y’all is if you will get us some guidelines and allow us some avenues where we know what you want then we won’t have to deal with all these questions, Mr. Castleberry,” Brooks snapped.
“It is our intent to put those policies in force,” Castleberry said calmly. “That’s our business.”
“The business is this,” Brooks responded. “Every time I come here you seem to want to get contentious. I want to make something very clear. Whether I get funded for Juneteenth or not, it’s not that important to me. But you’re going to be respectful to me and I’m going to be respectful to you. If you have some problems as it relates you need to come see me. No one wants to come before some of you all because it’s like walking into a lion’s den. What I want you to clearly understand…I don’t know you very well and you don’t know me. We’re going to respect each other…I will not compromise my dignity, so I want you to clearly understand you have not done a very good job of running this board. That’s my opinion. You’ve got an opinion, I’ve got one, so if we have to cast Juneteenth out the window to get a good understanding, we will. I hope from this day on you and I will have a good understanding. If there are some things you need to talk to me about then I will come to your office or you will come to mine, but you don’t chastise me and I’m not going to chastise you in public.”
“I hate to continue this conversation, but—” Castleberry began. “If it’s not about Juneteenth festival, I’m not going to dignify it,” Brooks interrupted. “If you’ve got a question about my festival or something like that, we can deal with it, but other than that I’m getting ready to leave.”
“You have a $23,000 budget. How does that fit in with your last year’s budget?” Myrick asked. “Is it more, less?” “Part of what happens is I will project the budget higher than the actual budget,” Brooks said. “So when we set the actual report…I can’t remember.”
“What was it last year?” Myrick asked.
“I can’t remember right off,” Brooks said. “But if you want me to get you a copy, I will. The board donated $16,000 last year so we’re asking for $15,000 this year.”
“I can tell you what he spent,” Lawrence said. “He spent $18,741.”
The board took no action on any of the festival requests; the votes will be taken next month.
Credit card use
During a discussion about ongoing audits, Byrd questioned Carpenter’s use of the CVB credit card. [Portions of the exchange below were heated, with both Byrd and Carpenter speaking over one another. This made it difficult to understand exactly what was being said. I based my account on what I could make out. – Brian Jones]
“There is one item that disturbs me,” Byrd said. “What I’m going to ask of the board is should we have guidelines for the credit card charges? Or is it just at the discretion of that card holder? I see a trend where the card holder, the director in this case, Nancy, used the credit card excessively.”
“I disagree with you,” Carpenter interjected, but Byrd talked over her.
“No, no, no,” Byrd said.
“When you get through, I want to address that,” Carpenter said.
“One of the charges was at Broussard’s, it was $184,” Byrd said. “On December 3 Nancy had gone to Broussard’s with a Major Joe Hardman. I’m questioning why the bill was so high. Nancy told me she also had a family member there.”
“Who is my husband,” Carpenter responded. “Because I don’t like to meet men at a hotel and take them to dinner.”
Byrd and Carpenter began talking over each other, but Carpenter drowned her out, saying, “We paid for you and Willie Byrd to go to Florence, Alabama.”
“No, no, no,” Byrd shouted. “You reimburse me up to $50 a day.”
“I reimbursed $500 for you—” Carpenter said.
“You did not…” Byrd shot back. “It was not…It was $200 or so on there. You only reimbursed me what my meals were. I turned in my receipts. It was up to $50 a day…You should not pay for your husband or your daughter’s meals…”
“My daughter did not go,” Carpenter said.
“Well, in the past she’s gone—”
“No, Whirllie,” Carpenter shouted. “Let’s get back to the…let me explain something…”
“In the business world it is customary that if I am hosing a business client, and I invite my spouse or take his spouse, then I pay the tab on that,” Wise interjected. “It’s not that I break out and pay my spouse.”
“Let me ask, so we can be clear,” Byrd said. “Is it appropriate for any person to pay for a spouse or a family member’s meal on a taxpayer’s credit card? To me it’s misuse of the credit card.”
“When you were the treasurer, for two years there were no credit cards paid by check,” Wise said. “They were paid on-line, there was no proof you ever looked at a credit card receipt. If you did you’d have seen James Tsismanakis on trips paid for a spa visit for his wife—”
Byrd tried to interrupt, but Wise shouted, “I’m saying there’s two different standards that you’re trying to say—”
He and Byrd again talked over each other at a loud volume before Byrd finally said, “With what we have learned about it we should correct that. Glenn Lautzenhiser was the treasurer, too. Once we learned of the problem through an audit, we changed it. Once you learn better, you do better. Once it’s brought to your attention—”
“We have receipts on everything,” Wise yelled.
“Okay,” Byrd said. “Still, the question is should this director be allowed to pay for meals for her family members?” “Excuse me,” Carpenter broke in. “Let me tell you…Major Joe Hardman…this individual had not been treated to a meal—”
Byrd tried to interrupt, and Carpenter shouted, “Let me finish!”
Swales pounded his gavel in an attempt to restore order.
“You tell her to stop it,” Byrd snapped.
“I’m telling both of you to stop it,” Swales said.
“Look at her, too, then, all right?” Byrd said.
“May I explain who Major Joe Hardman is?” Carpenter asked. “He is the gentleman who is head of the National Guard yellow ribbon events. He has brought to us thousands and thousands of guests. We have had two events this year already…excuse me, since June, and we will have one during Pilgrimage. We’ve had several where we had over a thousand people staying for the weekend. He deserves a meal.”
“He can have a meal,” Byrd said. “I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about your husband.”
“This discussion has lasted long enough,” Swales said. “May I please have a motion relative to the use of the credit card?”
“Any expense under $50 is not put on the credit card, is that correct?” Wise asked.
“That is correct,” Carpenter said. “That is a new policy I have begun.”
“The employee submits a receipt and is repaid out of either petty cash or by a check,” Wise said. “We are matching up every receipt with every expenditure to make sure we have a paper trail of where every dollar is going.”
Swales again called for a motion.
“I see Nancy’s husband doing an awful lot of free work,” Hicks said. “He’s not paid anything for it. If we can’t afford a meal when he spends all that time for us, something ain’t right.”
“I do free work, I don’t expect to get a free meal,” Byrd responded.
“Well, you should,” Hicks said.
“I still think there should be guidelines,” Byrd said.
“We can’t put that in black and white in a box where it’s going to fit every time,” Wise said. “You’ve got to give the executive director some discretion on expenses.”
“Nancy has got a history of feeding her family,” Byrd said, but was interrupted by Swales banging the gavel.
“That is a personal reference,” he said.
“It’s a fact,” Byrd said.
“It’s out of order,” Swales said.
“It’s a fact,” Byrd repeated.
Castleberry moved that the issue be tabled. It was tabled unanimously.
Buckhalter recommended that the board reduce the amount it is funding the Link, but got no traction.
“I think we should amend the budget,” he said. “We do not have enough money to fund the festivals at the usual level. I move that we amend the budget to move more money into festivals.” “I second that,” Byrd said.
“It’s not clear to me what amendment we’d do,” Swales said. “I don’t hear any specifics.”
“I move that we move $50,000 from the Link budget to the festivals,” Buckhalter said, and was again seconded by Byrd.
“Back when we formulated this budget we had an awful lot of discussion on the history of funding the Link,” Wise said. “Previously it had been funded at 15 percent. A year or two ago there was a discussion of cutting it. Then we finally came to the agreement that we would fund it at 13, 14 and 15 percent. In passing a budget we basically told them we were going to fund them at that level. That’s an organization that took what we committed to and formulated their budget. Now we’re reneging on our pledge after three, three and a half months. We’re telling them we’re not going to honor what we told them we’d do. I think we need to honor what we committed to them.
“We have this discussion every month on what economic development has done for this county,” Wise continued. “The city and county tax receipts are in your book. If we go back just to the 2008/2009 budget, we averaged $102,000 in receipts in the city, $4,500 from the county. The year that we’re at in now we’re averaging $28,000 a month more than we were at that time and about $2,000 a month more from the county. That’s $30,000 a month more that we’re getting now from people coming into town and spending money, eating in the restaurants. That’s $360,000 a year in additional revenue they’ve brought in in the last three years in economic development. That more than funds the $200,000 that we fund the Link. It’s the golden goose that provides the money for this organization.”
“I’m saying that the Link isn’t doing a good job,” Buckhalter said. “I never said that. They do a fantastic job, but we are sitting up here giving most of our budget to the Link and then we’re falling short. If we had done our budget the correct way and let the Finance Committee do the budget like they were supposed to instead of it being done by one person then it would have been a lot better. We do not have money to fund festivals, which we normally do. My motion is to try to get through this budget crisis and to fund the festivals also.”
“That’s your opinion, Bernard,” Castleberry said, “but I think to make a comparable statement that the budget wasn’t done the right was is incorrect. The full board worked with the budget and adopted the budget. The idea of amending the budget three months in is slaughtering the credibility of what we do.
I think also in the larger picture we represent the 60,000 people of Lowndes County,” he added. “The national unemployment rate has gone to 8.5 percent. Columbus is at 16.8 percent. That’s right at double the national unemployment rate. You’re telling me to serve the people of Lowndes County and Columbus…they’d rather have a festival or they’d rather have a job? That’s your decision to make, but I’m going to go with they’d rather have a job.”
The motion failed 8-1, with only Buckhalter voting in favor.
Myrick then made a motion to ask the Finance Committee to see there was any other money that could be moved to the grant budget. He was seconded by Nadia Dale.
“Once you start moving items in a budget, you start destroying that budget,” Wise said. “It scares me to death that we’re going to take a workable budget and just destroy it. You’re totally decimating the overall plan of what this organization is trying to do when you start changing line items.”
“It’s worth looking into,” Byrd said. “Had we done the budget right the first time we probably would not be having this conversation.”
“I don’t think that’s the point,” Swales said. “That’s out of order.”
“She has a right to her opinion and a right to state it,” Buckhalter said. “It’s not out of order.”
“Uh, it is my part of the conversation,” Byrd said. “His attitude’s just got to…Mr. Chair…you’ve just got to change your attitude. I think we need to take a look at it. I think Harvey’s motion was a good idea. It won’t be that bad.”
“When you close your mind to bettering the budget…you can amend the budget at any time when you find ways to improve it,” Buckhalter said. “You’ve got a closed mind, my budget is perfect and I’m not going to attempt to amend it…I’m not saying that’s what you’re saying, but you’ve got to overcome that…it can’t be adjusted, it’s not going to be adjusted.”
“I think we need to remember that we inherited a significant amount of debt,” Castleberry said. “The grant commitment with no funding. These are real, we cannot undo those. Those numbers are in there. Just rolling over debt, just paying the minimum every month, that’s not a good thing to do. We need to zero out our line of credit every year. I’ve never been on a board where we started looking at amending a budget until the last part of the year. I also think that if revenue continues to be strong we can modify and beef up things. Over the last three years people have had to reduce spending and tighten their belts, and that’s just the position we’re in.”
The motion passed 5-4, with Byrd, Buckhalter, Swales, Myrick and Dale voting yes and Wise, Castleberry, Hicks and Lawrence voting no.
Carpenter announced that the board will advertise for an attorney, and a committee will review applications and make a recommendation to the full board. The CVB does not currently have a board attorney.0