Leroy asks for more money for Juneteenth
Myrick submits Ethics
Commission ruling on
Grillin’ on the River
The Convention and Visitors Bureau heard four requests for funding at their April 16 meeting, as well as discussing a recent Ethics Commission statement about Grillin’ on the River and the makeup of the executive committee board. The board also heard a request via letter from District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks for an additional $1,000 in funding for the Juneteenth festival.
Requests for funding
The Crawford Cotton Boll Festival, the Tennessee Williams Tribute, the Southside Festival and Artesia Day made requests for funding. The board heard the requests but took no action; decisions will be made next month.
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks also submitted a letter requesting more funding for the Juneteenth festival.
Crawford Mayor Fred Tolon asked for funding for the Cotton Boll Festival. Tolon asked for $8,000; last year the festival asked for $4,000.
“This is the only event that the town of Crawford has annually,” Tolon said. “I don’t know if you are familiar with Crawford. A lot of times I think we’re out of sight and out of mind. We’re trying to get to the forefront more than we have been. We look forward to this event all year long. Your support makes this a successful event every year, and without your support this event would pretty much be nonexistent.
“This is a win/win for the city of Columbus,” Tolon said. “A lot of people come in for the festival, and they stay in Columbus. With them staying over, they bring money into your motels and restaurants.”
The Cotton Boll Festival is held July 13-14.
“I noticed that you have $3,500 listed from fundraisers on your breakdown,” said Rissa Lawrence. “What kind of fundraisers do you do?”
“Right now we have car washes, fish fries, etc.,” Tolon said. “We have to do a lot of fundraisers because we have pretty much no industry. We have a few convenience stores, but pretty much all of our tax base is ad valorem.”
“Last year you put someone up in a hotel in Starkville for four nights,” Lawrence said. “We’d appreciate it if you’d put them up in Lowndes County.”
The Tennessee Williams Tribute was next. They asked for $16,500; last year they asked for $18,000.
“This will be our eleventh year celebrating the Tennessee Williams Tribute,” said Administrative Chair Martha Lee Porter. “It will be September 4-9. We are on the map both nationally and internationally because of the interest in his work. Our play with be Rose Tattoo, which appeared on Broadway and was turned into a movie starring Burt Lancaster. We will have a lot of local people in the plays, and the director comes from Starkville.”
“I want to compliment you on showing your balance forward on your closeout report from last year,” Lawrence said, “but on your application you did not show it. You could show that $10,000 brought forward.”
“We don’t have that much right now,” said Williams Tribute Finance Chair George Courington. “We had to pay some expenses after that. We never know what we’re going to get. Two years ago I bailed the tribute out from my own pocket, and I never want to have to do that again. We’ve decided that from now on we have to have more amateurs instead of these high-paid people out of New York. Hopefully we’ll have more money to carry over next year. I’d like to have enough someday to not have to ask you for anything.”
“This is our second year to have non-profit status,” Porter said. “After we’ve had it for two full years we can go to the Mississippi Arts Commission and apply for an operating grant. There is a mini-grant we can apply for this year that’s $500 to $1,000, and we have applied for that.”
District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith and Columbus City Councilman Gene Taylor appeared to ask for funds for the Townsend Park Blues Festival. The festival asked for $26,650; they asked for $12,000 last year. [As in the past, no comment was made about seated politicians asking a board they appoint for money for their pet festivals. To his credit, Mr. Smith seemed uncomfortable to be there. – Brian Jones]
“I apologize,” Smith said. “The person who represents our committee called at the very last moment and told me she could not attend, so I was forced to make this appearance before the board. I had no desire to be here this evening, but somebody had to represent the festival this evening so I came before the board myself.
“We have grown in stature since last year, and we’re hoping that what we’ve done will become a positive part of the community,” Smith said. “We’re on the Fourth of July weekend, and we’re anticipating a lot of people to come out. This gives us an opportunity to promote Lowndes County and Columbus as a very positive place that you can come as a family.”
“Looks like you’re budgeting a loss,” said Bart Wise.
“We are starting from scratch soliciting support,” Smith said. “It’s been a difficult task. We never get fully funded for our program, and so we also go out and try to solicit support to raise funds.”
“Why are you asking for $10,000 more this year than last year?” asked Dewitt Hicks.
“The costs have been tremendous,” Smith said. “As I said, we’ve never gotten fully funded to do these events. It’s getting more difficult each and every year to go out and solicit support. It’s tough times in the country financially, and this area is feeling that also. We’re trying to go out and raise additional funds, but we’re falling short and we’re hoping your money will allocated.”
“It ain’t no secret that we’re pretty short, too,” Hicks said.
“I hope you’ll do what you can to allow us to put on something positive for the community,” Smith said. “We’re trying to have some entertainment that has some diversity. We want to offer some diversity and try to reach out to the young.”
“Our festival brings other people inside the city,” Taylor said. “They stay in motels, they buy gas and shop. It’s not a just a neighborhood festival. We’re not here as elected officials, we’re here as citizens. We pay tax here, we live here. We’re not here to try to solicit funds that are not needed.”
The Artesia Days Festival asked for $10,000; they asked for $8,000 last year.
The festival is August 3-4, and will include a Relay for Life event. Organizers said 13,000 people attended last year.
Finally, the board took up a letter from District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks requesting more funding for the Juneteenth Festival.
At the board’s February meeting, the Juneteenth Festival and the Market Street Festival were both given less money than they had asked for due to the CVB’s dwindling grant fund. The Market Street Festival, which asked for $25,000, was given $15,000 and the Juneteenth Festival, which had requested $15,000, was given $14,000.
Last week the CVB board held a special meeting and transferred an additional $26,250 into the grant fund; Carpenter estimated that the CVB will still have a $5,500 shortfall at the end of the year, even with the transfer.
Monday night Carpenter said Brooks submitted a request for more funds.
“He sent a letter saying that he understands we held a special meeting and amended our budget,” Carpenter said. “Juneteenth requested $15,000 and was awarded $14,000. Brooks said he was instructed by the Juneteenth Committee to ask for an additional $1,000 to bring the amount up to the original request.”
Carpenter said the letter was given to her before the meeting started.
No action was taken.
Carpenter went over the CVB’s grant guidelines.
“The festival event marketing grant application is the same one we’ve used since the 1990s to early 2000s,” Carpenter said.
Applications are due within 15 days of the quarterly grant program meetings, which are: October (January, February and March requests); January (April, May and June requests); April (July, August, September requests); and July (October, November and December requests).
The following are ineligible for grant funding: one day events; salaries or personnel expenses such as travel, hotel rooms or meals; operating/administrative or rental expenses; advertising placed after an event; postage; advertising placed without the CVB logo; charitable donations; building or structural expenses, or rental of space or equipment; cash prizes or awards; and convention and sporting events.
A line item budget is mandatory, she said, as is an appearance before the CVB board to make the formal request.
Grillin’ on the River
Harvey Myrick asked to make a statement addressing an ethics opinion on his involvement with Grillin’ on the River.
Myrick, who founded Grillin’ on the River, withdrew the festival from consideration from CVB funding this year and cancelled the festival following questions about his involvement with both Grillin’ and the CVB board. He wrote to the Mississippi Ethics Commission to request an opinion, and at Monday’s meeting he stated that the Ethics Commission saw no problem with his involvement.
In an opinion, dated March 2, 2012, the Ethics Commission stated, “The board member has no financial interest in the non-profit corporation, and it is not a business with which he is associated. Therefore there is no violation.”
From the opinion: “Since [Myrick] receives no income from the non-profit corporation and receives no compensation in connection with the event, [Myrick] will not have a prohibited interest in any grants, funding or other transactions between the CVB and the non-profit corporation or event. Therefore no violation will occur if the CVB funds the event…Pursuant to Section 25-4-105(1) the requestor may not use his position with the CVB board to obtain or attempt to obtain any monetary benefit for himself or a ‘business with which he is associated.’ A non-profit receiving public funds is a business…However, the non-profit corporation is no longer a business with which the requestor is associated…Furthermore, the non-profit corporation will not qualify as a business with which the requestor is associated simply because he volunteers his time to the non-profit and takes a personal interest in the event. Therefore the requestor is not obligated to recuse himself from CVB actions which would benefit the non-profit.”
The letter goes on to say that, while not required, it might still be a good idea for Myrick to recuse himself so as to avoid the appearance of any impropriety.
“Even though I recused myself the perception in the community was that I was sitting on this board and giving Grillin’ on the River money,” Myrick said. “I took the high road and just said we weren’t going to have [the festival] until I could get this letter in your hands.”
Executive committee makeup
Nadia Dale pointed out that the current executive committee is made up only of members appointed by the county. The executive committee is usually made up of the executive director plus the three board officers. Currently George Swales is president, Mark Castleberry is vice president and Bart Wise is secretary.
Dale asked if the committee could be reconfigured to allow city appointees to participate.
Wise stated that he thought the executive committee makeup was stipulated in the CVB bylaws. Carpenter said she would she and report back to the board. The matter was tabled until then.