A Special Meeting of the Council was called February 27, 2020 with all Council Members Attending.
Mayor Miller was unable to speak due to a throat ailment so Vice Mayor McKenzie conducted the meeting. As evidenced from the agenda, the Council meeting was set up to determine whether the Wild Azalea Festival would commence in three and one-half weeks or it would be cancelled
Although the prior meeting was a workshop…. where council members could not vote… this meeting gave an opportunity for the committee members to attend the council meeting and state their case. The motion at the end of the meeting was to continue with the Azalea Festival and because there were continual comments by Councilor Anita Rivers that White Springs does not have the money, we must Thank Rhett Bullard for donating an additional $1,000 to the Committee so that the Festival would continue. And the following is a discussion of how the council arrived at their decision.
Ms. Sonja Small has been the President of the Special Events Committee since January of 2020, taking over the presidency from Ms. Paige Bullard who has worked with the Special Events committee since Tom and Madeline Moore resigned.
Mr. McKenzie stated that that No one knows what is going on.
Ms. Small stated that she was new to the Council but that in the February 6th meeting four people were present and at that time approved the duck races, vendors, and the bands which were $500 each.
Vice Mayor McKenzie stated there have been no regular reports of what is conducted at the meetings. There have been no notifications of when the meetings are held so that the public may attend. Apparently there is a book up front at Town Hall where the information is placed as to the meetings and the minutes of each meetings. The information is sent to the Town Manager. When Stacy Tebo was town manager, because all the committee members have other jobs, she handled the meeting minutes from the notes she was given. Mr. Jones our current consultant/town manager stated he will not be handling the minutes of the committee’s meetings and that it is up to the committee themselves.
Also the notes originally are sent to Yvonne Bryant our Administrative Assistant who then provides them to Mr. Jones. However, since Mr. Jones has not handled his voice mail for months, in my opinion this job is too overwhelming for him. I am certain any information passed over to him is just ignored. I know everyone points their fingers at Ms. Bryant but if one reads between the lines, even the meeting notices and agendas are not placed on the bulletin boards, because they are held up on Mr. Jones desk for some reason. And since there has been no problem in receiving timely notices prior to the time Jones was hired, unless the Council breaks the rules, it does not appear Ms. Bryant is at fault, only the delays of our Manager in providing that information to her.
So although Vice Mayor McKenzie reminded the committees that they had to follow the Sunshine ample notifications so members of the public and the council could attend committee meetings, whether it is the fault of our Manager, or the Council not providing him with ample notice, I might remind all concerned that although three days notice is required, everyone was provided only a two day notice so in my opinion, why complain about a committee when ample notices in accordance with the law have not been given by the Council or the Manager who is responsible. In fact, the workshop only had a one day notice.
The problem is that there is no organizational guidelines for a new President to follow. I realize this is a small festival in comparison to large festivals held in major metropolitan areas, but every division had a handbook. For instance when I completed the Minneapolis Aquatennial Parade division manual it included not only who should be contacted such as firefighter emergency, police, stadium management , coordinators and commodore information, what to do by each month in the year prior, when the meetings would be held, who was responsible at the mixing valves, which sponsors to contact, etc. There were no questions. And although the scripting was done for the parade by a few of us, I came in one day early to the office and changed which units were cancelled, which units were added and made the appropriate scripts for the TV stations and assisted the TV crew for the over two hour parade and announcers at the Stadium. I also produced the pre-parade show.
Sonja Small had not been given any instruction and had no idea where the checks from the Town came from. Paige Bullard so kindly joined the 2020 committee. She stated that checks were issued by the Town so the remittance could be given to the people providing merchandise at the time of sale with invoices provided later. This was based on estimates, and that Pam Tomlinson had handled it. Our volunteer who does everything she can for the Town with no payment whatsoever, Ms. Beverly Brazil said that if she receives an invoice, she will try to make certain they have a check within the day, approved by the council, and she then will give the check to the committee member so they can pay the retailer immediately at the time of pickup.
Ms. Small stated that no one from the council ever contacted her or the committee members until the recent communication with Tom Moore. She said that it was not because she did not attempt connecting with council members. She stated that she introduced herself at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. event to the councilors. She said since she became president she has been busting to get things done in spite of the fact that she works, like the other volunteers who also have jobs.
The most difficult problem has been her inability to commit to vendors or bands by reason that the committee had a lack of information from the Council or the Town as to whether any monies would be received She also said she was not certain the council would commit. She stated that people have seen on media that the Wild Azalea had been canceled which made it more difficult. I admitted to placing the information on the White Springs journal which from what transpired at the workshop, Vice Mayor McKenzie stated he had no confidence in the festival continuing and Mayor Miller stated it was a “rebuilding year” but it could not be voted on until the next meeting which was yesterday.
After the MLK event, Ms. Small was told Tommie Jones was the Town Manager and that she would have to work with Mr. Jones. Apparently Mr. Jones then sent her an e-mail REQUIRING Ms. Small to attend the Council meetings to report like other committee members, when she works. She was upset that Mr. Jones REQUIRED her to come to meetings. She does not work for the Town but is a volunteer and should not be REQUIRED. At that time some information was provided to Council Member Tonja Brown to apprise the Council. Ms. Brown provided what information she had, but the actual information as to the meeting minutes was actually given to Mr. Jones who did not relay the information it appears. Yet Ms. Brown was blamed for not providing information or giving the council misinformation. Therefore, setting her up for removal, by the gang who do not like her, in my opinion.
Ms. Brown was also blamed that there was no information relating to the Christmas Parade, but I remember Ms. Brown offering to assist with not only the Parade, advising the Santa Suit was Missing and working with the Breakfast for Santa situation. At the time, a suit was going to be secured from the Park and Council Member Tonja assisted with not only the Breakfast but with the Parade, as Spencer Lofton had done the previous year when he was Mayor. Council Member Brown even assisted with the preparation of food for the Breakfast with Santa and it sounded like the Committee also paid for some things out of pocket because they could not depend on our Town Council for assistance.
The hot dogs and drinks were paid for by the Town and Yvonne Bryant and the committee provided the pancake mix and syrup.
It was mentioned that the Town did not assist the Committee with the Veterans Day’ luncheon and program so that the money came out of the individual pockets of the committee. The committee expressed the importance of our veterans and refused to let the Veterans down, so they paid for everything themselves. Yet, the Council complained at their meeting before Veterans Day. Ms. Small said she would never let the Veterans down because they are important. It may be mentioned that Ms. Small also contacted Scott Gay for the $500 donation he had provided for the MLK event (which the Town had no money for) and inquired as to what it may be spent for. Mr. Gay of course appreciated her call and advised what it could go for.
Ms. Small has done everything correctly from what I have seen. The committee has always needed the decisions of the council but to date have not received anything from the Council or Manager. Except some form of Thanks from McKenzie which did not seem sincere enough for me to believe him.
Ms. Small because of her job, asked the Churches also for help through committee members. Ms. Small stated she doesn’t take things lightly if she puts her name on the line and in the case of the Azalea festival, if the Council Changes something mid stream, she is out of the money personally. That is why she could not commit until such time as the council decided if the Committee would receive money or whether the Council would not provide money and cancel. Then the money she received from vendors would have to be returned and how would the Council wish for her to do so.
Tracy Godbold, a member of the committee, stated that Part of the Committee has to do everything at the last minute. The Band will cost $500 and that was the cost for any band but the Devil Jacks of last year, is the band of choice but as of yet, the committee could not commit, even for local bands who would cost less because the Committee had no idea what the Council would allow in the way of money. She said that although the Budget states a specific amount, the committee has always tried to keep the costs down. Tracy Godbold has worked with Paige Bullard prior to Ms. Small’s presidency and is a valuable committee member. Joe and I have known her personally and she is also a very hard worker and will do what she can to make certain everything runs smoothly.
Although former Mayor Rhett Bullard was aware of the Budget listing $5,000 as the line item for the Azalea festival, Tom Moore asked Mr. Jones to provide him with a copy of the budget to review. This was after Council Member Anita Rivers kept saying that our Town does not have the money and after so many comments of that sort, Rhett Bullard donated $1,000 personally. He stated that the only council members attending the Azalea festival last year were Tom Moore and Tonja Brown.
Ms. Small stated that when she was made president she never received any directions, just some clippings and a few notes. No agenda. It was stated that anyone can receive the committee’s records. The minute book was placed up front at Town hall and Stacy Tebo took care of everything.
Anita Rivers stated no accurate minutes were received from September on. There were no Minutes for October, November and December. She also blamed Ms. Bryant our Administrative Assistant for not sending the agenda to the Council Members and the public. Yet, previously Stacy Tebo handled all that information for the Committees and Mr. Jones made it clear that he will not be handling that information. Ms. Rivers then stated that we are not being notified.
Last year, it was stated that the Council and the Azalea Committee worked with Mayor Lofton who was continually involved. Spencer Lofton knew what was going on and assisted with going to the Hamilton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) which yearly was providing $1,500 for Advertising. Vice Mayor McKenzie advised he is on the committee of the TDC. Yet the TDC never received copies of checks and receipts from Pam Tomlinson and as a result if the TDC provides anything at all it will be only $500 because no request went out. This was something Mayor Lofton handled when he was Mayor. As Ms. Small stated, she works and has a badge and a gun and cannot take off of work to handle everything.
My question is this. If Vice Mayor McKenzie is on the board of the TDC, why was he unaware that the Town had not provided receipts and where the TDC money was spent if he was on the Committee. Why didn’t Mayor McKenzie, after obviously learning we had not provided such to the TDC either contact a Committee Member or Pam Tomlinson for the information and give it to the TDC. From what I overheard is that when one of the committee members contacted Walter McKenzie to see whether he would donate some food to the “Taste of White Springs” he chastised the committee member so badly for asking, that they, the committee will never ask him again. So here I see where everyone has condemned the prior administration but obviously members of that administration worked with the committees, except for Vice Mayor McKenzie.
Sonja Small never was aware of the TDC grant but she filled out an application. She could not visit the TDC because of her business hours. She said she cannot do the shopping and Mr. Jones stated he can’t go shopping and do his job.
Tom Moore stated that when he was on the committee, everyone had an assignment. The money was provided when receipts were submitted. Paige Bullard also indicated that she paid for all the awards, not the Town.
Vice Mayor McKenzie said he appreciates the efforts of the Committee
Joyce Pellagrad (I apologize for any spelling error in her name) indicated that she has been a vendor for several years and needs to know if we are going to have a festival. She has already made her product for the festival. Vice Mayor McKenzie state that is the reason we are here.
Kathy Fender stated the Azalea Festival was mediocre at best until last year. She purchases three spots for her 24’ long trailer and doesn’t need that many but has always paid extra.
McKenzie then summarized the discussions so far.
There have been no reports to the Council which has not been properly informed.
There have been no Public Notices
The budget is as far as the money goes. It would be great if we raised thousands of dollars but the budget is our concern.
Communications are bad on both sides and not as good as wished.
The TDC grant if any is a problem.
The Council has a fiscal responsibility to the Citizens. The festival is in three weeks and all we have are bills. $310 for the Bounce house, $800 for the Azaleas from Nobles, etc and nothing for the porta potties at the Ballfield.
McKenzie stated that if “you saw a problem, you should have asked. It is the responsible thing with money. It was serious enough that Anita Rivers called a meeting.
It was questioned why the Azalea festival is being held at the Ballfield when we have an Eco Center so that Porta Potties would not have to be purchased and where people can go to the downtown businesses. In fact the Hardware store is willing for us to use their area.
It was stated by Paige Bullard that someone was almost hit by a car and that there is space only for three to four vendors.
There is also the problem of the Car Wash across the street (Which the EPA would have a fit over because the oil grease and dirty water goes right into the aquifer since it is not a regulated car wash facility). The new renter of the property on the Woodard land can include anyone for free without paying the fees that the actual vendors pay to the Town. And the person renting the car wash can do whatever he does for his own business. Vendors would not come back if they do not make money. And the park includes more people so many vendors can come. There were 20 some vendors but it has been said that the Council cancelled the Azalea Festival so they have not committed.
There is money in the Budget but the Town of White Springs needs a return to profitability. They need to stop the outflow of Money. Again our Admin was blamed for not sending things out when in fact since Jones has become Manager, he has not provided our Admin with the information. Yet we know what the writing on the wall pertains to because somehow our Town will again hire who they desire and not specifically what is best for the Town, I feel.
Again I overheard something interesting. Nicole Williams asked why she did not receive notices. What was said was that she did not receive notices at some point was because Ms Williams had not attended a committee meeting for 18 months.
Council Member Rivers stated if we lose money on the festival, we can’t do it. It was stated that with no money, the Festival cannot host events.
Paige Bullard mentioned that the Festival Cost $5,800 and $4,800 was made. After consideration of the TDC Grant, there was a profit of $2,500.
The council then questioned why we were securing a sound system for $800 from Donald Johnson. The Park always provided the Trailer and Sound System for free.
The response was that now the sound system must be provided by Donald Johnson. That the Town’s sound system is not adequate for a live band and then there was a complaint that the Band should have their own sound systems.
Again a complaint was made to the committee that they must be accountable to the town with proper notice. McKenzie stated we have the money but cannot spend any more money than we receive. Anita Rivers said that “You don’t spend everything in your bank account.
A member of the audience explained White Springs is on the State Event calendar. Events are planned. Is the Council holding back. If people come in they will spend money. Put the event in writing. The Council is hindering this town to bring in Tax dollars.
Vice Mayor Mckenzie then said we only have three business places in Town as respect tax dollars. The Two major events bringing more tourists in are the Bicyclists and the Florida Folk Festival. His initial comments about only three businesses caused further criticism by the audience this time.
The most profound statement made at the meeting was by a man in the audience. He said that the Town does very little for the Citizens so the least the Town can do is continue with the Azalea festival.
Finally the council agreed on a price. Vice Mayor McKenzie made a motion for the budget not to exceed $4,000 and the additional donation made by Rhett Bullard of $1,000 would go directly toward the event plus anything TDC offered, if anything, for advertising. Anita Rivers then seconded the motion but the Council would not provide the $5,000 in the budget. Thee rason is that when the budget was made for $5,000 it included the TDC amount of $1,500 for advertising, which we will not receive this year.
I do not believe either the committee or our administrative assistant can be blamed for this communication problem. After all, the Council has never made decisions or made up policy or rules as to how everything should be handled. Further Mr. Jones appears to leave what is presented to him on his desk and is the one who does not complete the timely agendas to give to our Administrative Assistant. Mr. Jones also made it clear that he will not do any paperwork for the committee and they have to do it themselves and the committee must keep reporting at meetings month by month.
Why Council Member Rivers kept complaining that we did not have the money to spend on the Festival various times throughout the meeting is a mystery to me. Our council should be working with their committees and the public. And furthermore, with McKenzie on the committee for the TDC it just shows he is not interested enough in the Town to have advised Pam Tomlinson at the time that the TDC did not have receipts which Paige had previously provided Tomlinson. He could of helped but like Jones he must not think it was his job.
Our thanks to Rhett Bullard for his contribution and for possibly saving the Azalea Festival with his contribution. And again, Thank you to Scott Gay for his previous contribution for the MLK event. Since the committee spent their own money to honor the Veterans with a luncheon, I am certain these donations were greatly appreciated.
Thank you special event committee for all your work and especially to Sonja Small who was given no direction but did what she needed to do. At least now she can go forward with the festival.