Legends Concert May Get Second Shot
At their July 16 meeting, the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau elected new officers, heard grant requests and briefly discussed the Legends Concert.
[Before I get to the blow-by-blow of the meeting, I want to mention something else first. Dispatch Reporter Jeff Clark and I usually sit in chairs against the walls in the boardroom. From this vantage, we can hear the discussion and follow the votes with little difficulty. To my great surprise, when I arrived at Monday’s meeting we were told that we were no longer allowed to sit in our usual places, but must instead sit out in the lobby and view the meeting through an open partition.
Anyone who has ever been in the CVB office will, I’m sure, share my puzzlement at this. The board members do not have microphones, and from such a distance it is very difficult to hear many of them clearly (or at all). Votes are often taken by a show of hands, and it is nearly impossible to tell who’s voting which way when only the people at the nearest end of the table are clearly visible.
No convincing explanation was offered for the change (which I strongly suspect is illegal – a public board can’t bar members of the public or the media from the room where a meeting is going on, hence that “public” part of “public meeting.”) In fact, when Mr. Clark complained to then-President George Swales, many of the board members said that they had no objection to our being in the boardroom. Mr. Swales’s only response was that he “preferred” we not be allowed in the room.
Dispatch Managing Editor Slim Smith wrote in an editorial Wednesday that Executive Director Nancy Carpenter told him that the decision was made because of people dragging chairs into the room and scratching up the floors, and people “talking and laughing and otherwise being a nuisance.”
This is ridiculous. Mr. Clark and myself rarely do anything more eye-catching than taking notes and perhaps snapping the odd photograph. I’ve covered the CVB since January, and I can’t remember any time members of the audience caused a significant distraction. (And I’m not even going to dignify the idea that the public may be barred from a meeting to preserve the floors with a rebuttal.)
It is hard for me to believe that this is anything other than a particularly petty form of retaliation for the not-very-flattering news coverage the CVB typically receives.
I hope that I’m wrong. I like to believe that our community leaders are adult enough to handle criticism without resorting to such childish displays of pique. I like to believe that they are smart enough to realize that the way to get more favorable media coverage is to stop acting like buffoons.
Then again, I also like to believe in the Easter Bunny. – Brian Jones]
At the beginning of the meeting, the board elected new officers. George Swales stepped down as president, and DeWitt Hicks was elected to succeed him. Nadia Dale was elected vice president, and Bart Wise was re-elected as treasurer.
“I want to see our board unified,” Hicks said as he took the gavel. “We represent a wonderful community and a high mission. We can only do a better job is we work together. We are not going to agree on everything, but I ask each of us to treat the other board members, the staff and the people who appear before us as we’d like to be treated.”
After his remarks, the board heard requests for grant funding from the Seventh Avenue Heritage Festival, Caledonia Day and Dream 365.
Kamal Karriem made a presentation on behalf of the Seventh Avenue Heritage Festival. Karriem asked for $15,000.
Karriem stated that he was appearing in lieu of his brother, Councilman Kabir Karriem.
“I am appearing instead of Councilman Karriem because nothing we are doing here is politically based or biased,” he said. “This is our thirtieth year. We had very humble beginnings with this. We started on the back of a flatbed truck, and we’ve grown to where we have it on the corners of Seventh Avenue and Fifteenth Street North. We celebrate the unique culture and entrepreneurial spirit of what was once one of Columbus’s most profiled business and entertainment districts. African-American entertainers could perform almost anywhere in the South, but Jim Crow laws mandated that they had to stay in colored hotels. In its heyday the Queen City Hotel served entertainment royalty such as Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Little Richard and the list goes on. It is a proud recipient of the Top Twenty Events by the Southeast Tourism Society.
“We host local and regional musical entertainment, which will include jazz, R&B, contemporary and gospel,” he said. “We draw food vendors from all over the United States. Businesses are also allowed to display goods and souvenirs. It is family friendly, it’s not just a riotous party type situation. We offer activities for the whole family, including a kidsville. We have a parade, and we are currently negotiating with some bands we hope will come. We have also been listed on the Blues Trail because of the Queen City Hotel.”
Karriem estimated 15,000 to 18,000 people came to the festival over the past several years.
“I see that 85 percent of your budget is in entertainment,” said Mark Castleberry. “The Mississippi Arts Commission will pay 50 percent of the cost of blues and R&B musicians. I’m not picking on you, because I don’t know of anybody who has used that. But that’s something we encourage you and others to consider.”
“In times past we have talked with the arts council,” Karriem said. “It’s been touch-and-go. The money that we ask for…usually what happens is that $15,000 goes to secure the act. The other monies we raise from sponsors or get in-kind services. If we need any other money, we go in our pocket.”
“This is the Mississippi Arts Commission in Jackson,” said Executive Director Nancy Carpenter. “It’s just a way for you to get some help.”
“That’s certainly something to look into,” Karriem said.
“Do you consider your event to be more tourism or more quality of life?” asked Harvey Myrick.
“Both,” Karriem said. “Tourism because of the amount of traction that it’s gained and the reputation that it has. Quality of life because it does reflect the culture of a certain people.”
Jane Kilgore made a presentation on behalf of Caledonia Day. [Caledonia brought a huge crowd of supporters: Aldermen Bill Darnell, Mike Savage and Brenda Willis; former mayor Walt Willis; Town Marshal Ben Kilgore; and Caledonia Day organizer Susan Bell were all in the audience. – Brian Jones]
“We had a huge crowd last year,” Jane Kilgore said. “We had around 6,000 people on Saturday and around 250 vendors. Many came from out of state including Memphis and Tuscaloosa. We also had a huge crowd for music Friday night, and we had 20 minutes of fireworks.”
Kilgore estimated that there were about 555 out-of-state visitors.
“We’re expanding the events we’re offering,” she said. “This year we’re having a motorcycle poker run, which we think will bring in a lot of people. We expect a huge turnout that will bring a lot of people into Lowndes County.”
“I noticed you have an advertising budget, but you don’t have anything broken out,” said Whirllie Byrd.
“We are advertising in the local papers all over, and also Mississippi Magazine and Southern Living,” Kilgore said. “We’re also in the Jackson papers and papers in Alabama and on the radio.”
“Your request is 7,000 more than last year,” Castleberry said.
“We’re expanding a lot more and advertising a lot more,” Kilgore responded. “We’re doing a lot more to get the word out.”
Tony Montgomery presented on behalf of the Dream 365 event.
“This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, the march on Washington and the 15th Street Church bombing,” Montgomery said. “We are going to pull in all of those things. We’ve had a lot of great speakers over the years, and this year we are bringing in Harry Johnson, a national speaker who is tied in to the monument itself. He is a major fundraiser for the actual monument in Washington.”
The event will include a spoken work/poetry tribute Thursday and a concert by a New Orleans brass band and an appearance by several comedians Saturday. A gospel concert will be held Sunday, and Johnson will speak Monday.
“One of the questions that has asked and been answered by others is whether this is for tourism or for the local folks,” Montgomery said. “When we started this, it was simply so we could educate the community and move the dream forward. The further we get from the event, the less our youth know what’s behind it. But, in partnering with you, we have spent our greatest efforts to bring tourism to our event. We know in the past we’ve brought around 10,000 to the event. Our celebration is the largest in the state, and we know there’s not another area that competes with us. We’ve been named a Top Twenty event for three consecutive years. We not only bring people in, but when people leave they talk about us.”
Montgomery said the projected expense was $66,500.
No decisions were made on the grant awards; those votes will be taken at the CVB’s next meeting.
Buckhalter asked to discuss the Legends Concert.
Last month the Legends organizers came to the CVB to ask for funding as a special project. Carpenter reported at the time that there was only about $54 left in the special projects fund, and noted that special projects funding was usually given to recreation events. Roger Short and Steve Rogers, who were representing the Legends committee, stated that Carpenter specifically told them to apply as a special project; after the board argued for a time, Rogers withdrew the committee’s request for $22,000 and he and Short left.
Buckhalter said he was uncomfortable with the way the Legends discussion transpired at last month’s meeting.
“There were some things at the last meeting I didn’t like,” Buckhalter said. “We allowed some people to speak, and then didn’t allow others to speak. We need to look at what we do before we do it. I think that’s the reason they withdrew their request. They saw they were going to split the board and they didn’t want to do that.”
“What would you think of asking the Legends people, who aren’t here tonight, to submit another application and let’s get it on record so we know what it is and then we’ll put it on the agenda for the retreat,” Hicks said.
“I think the vote did not pass,” said Bart Wise.
“It was a tie vote,” Buckhalter said. [The vote tied 4-4, with Myrick, Byrd, Dale and Buckhalter voting yes and Swales, Lawrence, Wise and Castleberry voting no. Hicks was absent. – Brian Jones]
“I’m not sure how you amend a vote in the last three months of a budget year to get the money to fund that,” Wise said.
“Why are fishing for a project that wants us to subsidize each ticket by $27 per ticket?” Castleberry asked. “That’s what they’re asking for. If the community doesn’t see that value in that, then I think the community has spoken.”
“The community has spoken?” Byrd asked.
“They don’t go to it,” Castleberry said.
“We need to have an application that’s on the agenda and then let everybody speak,” Hicks said.
“They’ve already put in an application,” Lawrence said. “I don’t see why we’re going begging for them to make another application.”
“I think there was a lot of misunderstanding when they were here, and I think we showed them some disrespect,” Byrd said. “I think they were just frustrated and pulled it back.”
No action was taken.