Thursday, June 23, 2005

City settles confusion over park’s use

Staff Writer

The Holly Springs Board of Aldermen held a special meeting Wednesday afternoon of last week to clear the air about a permit request for the use of Sam Coopwood Park.

Organizers of the North Mississippi Black Wall Street, a group that funds and empowers the black community, attended to answer questions regarding a permit request. The two-day festival at Sam Coopwood is to raise funds for the non-profit and to celebrate Juneteenth (June 19), a day set aside by black freed slaves in Texas upon hearing of their emancipation by President Abraham Lincoln.

The meeting was called by aldermen Tim Liddy and Naylond Hayes, who said they had received calls about flyers and radio announcements from constituents wanting to know about the event.

Hayes and Liddy called the meeting because of rumors that organizers planned to sell beer and charge a $5 admission fee.

Admission to the park is free to everyone by city ordinances which also do not allow alcohol consumption at the park, they said.

Liddy and Hayes said they were not informed about the group’s request to use the park and had asked the police department and recreation director Ken McMullen about the event and neither knew of any plans for the organization to use the park over the weekend.

Mayor Andre’ DeBerry opened the meeting by saying that he believes he has authority to give permission for the use of the park and the department head, McMullen, provides information about scheduling at the park and the city clerk’s office handles permit requests.

“I think there is a belief by part of the board that facilities have to be approved by the board,” DeBerry said. “My opinion is the setting of the policy is the duty of the board and once done, the use is an administrative decision with the department head and mayor.”

Hayes raised the question that McMullen did not know The Black Wall Street was coming to the park to hold an event.

“Shouldn’t he know about it?” Hayes asked.

DeBerry asserted that McMullen was informed. The mayor said he also consulted city attorney Ki Jones about any statutes and ordinances regarding Budweiser coming to the event.

The attorney said there was no prohibition in the state statutes, according to DeBerry.

In an interview Tuesday, Jones said there are regulations and guidelines that incorporated entities have to follow. He explained entities have to incorporate to form a non-profit organization and file their papers with the Secretary of State’s Office. Jones said an entity may file a tax application for a 501(c)(3) required by the IRS in order to accept donations and allow donors to take tax deductions.

“Feasibly, you can be a non-profit corporation and not accept donations and not have 501(c)(3) status,” Jones said.

Alderman Liddy, in the meeting last week, asked if the group planned to charge for admission.

“I would think if you look at our position, the board sets policy and my job is to enforce it,” said DeBerry. “If we have a prohibition against charging, I would think the board would have confidence not to call my hand. I would hope the board would have more confidence in my ability to effect policy.”

City Clerk Sandra Young said she had been told by Edythe Taylor that North Mississippi Black Wall Street wanted to sponsor a festival.

“It would be something similar to Kudzu Fest,” Taylor explained at the meeting. “I gave her (the deputy clerk) the information and she said because it was a charitable, non-profit organization we did not need (a permit).”

Young asked if documents were provided to the clerk’s office relative to the non-profit status.

Deputy city clerk Lisa Liddy said the 501(c)(3) registration had not been received to show the status.

DeBerry explained that the organization has many tiers and a number of African American businesses are involved with it.

Lisa Liddy explained that permits are not required for use of the park if the organization is a 501(c)(3). Beer permits are handled by the state and city, she said.

“I specifically told them beer could not be done,” said DeBerry.

Deputy city clerk Lisa Liddy continued.

“We do have a city ordinance dealing with beer,” she said. “The Kudzu (Festival committee) went through the state procedure and got a state and city beer license.” (Note: today the Kudzu Festival is an alcohol-free event. Alcohol was sold during some of the early festivals.)

DeBerry disagreed about city ordinance requirements.

“So, Mayor, you are saying the park can be used for profit for a private organization to make money for themselves. That is what we are trying to get across (to you),”clerk Liddy said.

DeBerry invited John Faulkner, president of North Mississippi Black Wall Street, to speak.

Faulkner said the group had planned to have a concession stand for the all-day events.

“We do not have to get a permit for a 501(c)(3),” he said.

Seal Faulkner, one of the event organizers, spoke.

“Lisa just said it is non-profit. It is not about putting money in our pocket,” he said.

“What we are saying is we need a copy (proof) of the 501(c)(3),” Lisa Liddy said. “You also have to be registered with the charities division of the state.”

“I think this issue is between me and the city clerk’s office to make sure we have the information to execute the request,” DeBerry said.

“That’s why we called (the meeting),” said alderman Liddy. “We need to do an in-house communication.”

Taylor asked Liddy which aldermen had questions about the event.

He answered.

“We can’t meet on the street,” Liddy answered. (By statutes aldermen are not allowed to meet outside the boardroom to discuss city business.)

DeBerry said special meetings have not heretofore been held to discuss policy.

“This is the first time we have called a special meeting - the first of its kind.”

Alderman Hayes spoke.

“Mayor, I think - bottom line- the board was at a lack of knowledge of what is going on,” he said. “We heard it on the radio, in flyers, and from people calling me. We didn’t know anything about it. You knew about it last week (at the regular meeting) and could have told us.

“Why you couldn’t inform us - there is something else behind this. What I’m not sure.”

The mayor answered.

“You have to discourse sometimes to get synergy and harmony,” he said.

Annie Moffitt asked to speak.

“I would like to apologize to the board for putting the mayor in this position,” she said. “Memphis and Tupelo have Juneteenth all over the city.

“We, as a people of Holly Springs, must come together. Juneteenth is a history of the signing of the proclamation of emancipation.”

Moffitt, vice president of North Mississippi Black Wall Street, said there should be no discrimination and the community should share its heritage.

“We should know about everybody’s heritage,” she said. “This (Juneteenth) is education. We (the races) don’t even know about one another. How can we be friends and love one another if we don’t know about each other (the interests of the different races)?”

Moffitt said the Juneteenth celebration is not just for black folks.

“It is for all of us,” she said. “We are all people.”

Juneteenth was considered an “incredible success for the first time,” John Faulkner said Monday.

He said the festival will become a yearly event.

An estimated 1,000 people attended the Juneteenth celebration during the two-day celebration at Sam Coopwood Park, he said.

“All vendors were there and entertainment included R&B Acts, hip hop and blues,” Faulkner said.

Glen Jones was the main R&B attraction and the R.L. Burnside band provided blues music.

Other officers of North Mississippi Black Wall Street are Donna Jeffries, secretary, and Lavora Blake, treasurer.

Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) is celebrated as the oldest celebration commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln Jan. 1, 1863. Historians say the Proclamation had little impact on Texans until Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed at Galveston on June 19, 1865, with news that the Civil War had ended and slavery was abolished.

The celebration of Juneteenth is growing in popularity nationwide by people of all races who use the day to acknowledge achievement, education, freedom, self-improvement, maturity, and dignity. The day is marked with speeches, picnics, family gatherings, entertainment and food.

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