Suggested ‘contract’ meets fierce opposition at emergency meeting

Published 6:17 pm Friday, September 9, 2016

The Bogalusa City Council met for an emergency meeting Friday.

The meeting began at 4 p.m. to tackle an issue no one on the council seemed to want to support and which no one in the audience supported: “Introducing an agreement between the city and the Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival.”

It’s not clear what the agreement would cover, as the proposed ordinance included no specifics aside from “the mayor is further authorized to enter into such contract and/or contracts with all necessary and/or incidental agreements and undertakings as she deems in the best interest of the City of Bogalusa.”

But what wasn’t on the page was made plain when State Rep. Malinda White spoke against the proposed ordinance. White, who organized the festival, accused an unnamed “someone” of trying to “suck money” from the festival with the contract. White is a former member of the Bogalusa City council.

She noted that a major act like blues guitarist Buddy Guy costs $50,000 to book.

“We’ll never get Buddy Guy because we’ve got someone who wants to suck money out of us,” White said. “Bonnie Raitt costs $150,000. We’ll never get that because we’re trying to be held back by somebody who thinks we should give everything we’ve got. And I don’t understand that.”

The barbs appeared to be directed at Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette, as every city council member who spoke about the contract was against it. This included Teddy Drummond, Gloria Kates, Brian McCree and Doug Ritchie. In addition, Fate Ferrell and Marvin Austin, two citizens who regularly attend meetings and are often in disagreement with city leadership, also spoke out in favor of the festival.

Absent from the meeting was Perrette, who could not attend due to a death in her family out of state.

After the meeting, White said that Perrette and other city officials recently met with members of the festival board’s of directors, seeking a formal agreement where the festival association, which is a nonprofit organization, would pay the city a guaranteed fee in exchange for camping security.

This is the fifth year of the festival, and White pointed out that the festival organization has always donated some money to the city — and she argued the festival brought Bogalusa a windfall in sales tax revenue and general goodwill. She was offended the city should want to sign a contract that would formalize the agreement with a set payment.

White said the city was initially seeking $5,400 for security and $250 per camping spot, although during the meeting on Friday, Bill Ritchie, the vice president of the festival board, said the city’s final offer was $3,000.

Ritchie pointed out that the festival generally donates a few thousand dollars to the city, depending on what the organization itself earns. In addition, he reminded the city council that the festival allows the city to be the exclusive vendor of tea and coffee, which raises about $1,500 per year. He suggested the city could set out a donation box next to its tea stand for the park.

“I told (city parks director) Landon (Tims), ‘Let’s put that bucket out there and rather than us being $1,000 apart, let’s let that bucket make up the difference,’” Ritchie said.

He then added that he would personally make up the difference if he had to.

“I’ll personally bring the money over here,” he said. “But we need to sit down right after the festival and we need to talk this out so we’re not doing this in the last two weeks before the festival.”

Ritchie also pointed out that the festival sometimes brings in less than $1,000 a year after all the expenses have been paid, and none of the board nor the president has a salary and the entire weekend is essentially put on by volunteers.

In addition, Both Ritchie and White complained that they’d only learned that the city wanted a contract a couple of weeks ago.

White said flat out they have no money for the city at present.

“It wasn’t in our budget to do something like this so if you want it immediately then you’re going to have to take a hot check,” she told the council. She added that the two sides still never agreed on any amount and she would never sign a blank contract.

“The contract I saw didn’t have the money amount in it. And I’m not signing a contract without a money amount,” she said.

The city council will vote on the ordinance at their next meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 20 — three days before the festival. White pointed out that all the bands have been booked, all the hotels in Bogalusa are reserved and, as it stands, everything is a go.
But White said in no uncertain terms that a bad contract could put the brakes on all of it.

“If this contract holds us up from holding that festival I want y’all to call those hotels and explain it to them,” she said.

The city council also introduced a resolution authorizing the mayor to accept an FAA grant for the airport, although this action met with no resistance.

The next city council meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 5:30 p.m.