By Walker Davidison
Weddstock – The “Free” Concert Series
Early this summer, a group of people including Weddington Mayor Nancy Anderson, decided to host a “free” concert series called “Weddstock.”
Mayor Anderson volunteered to provide the location for the concert series at her business called Hunter Farm. Hunter Farm is her agri-tourism business that sells strawberries, Christmas trees, and pumpkins. Holding Weddstock at Hunter Farm is a good way to promote the business given that Weddstock could attract hundreds of people to the farm who may return in the future as paying customers.
Kids First of the Carolinas offered to provide volunteers for the event. Kids First is a local charity that does a great job of organizing charitable events.
Kids First also agreed to raise the $18,000 in capital for the production and promotion costs of the event through private donations with the exception of a request for $2,000 from the town (a.k.a. the Weddington taxpayer).
At this point I was fine with everything this group was doing, except for the $2,000 from the taxpayer. I don’t consider music festivals to be part of the town’s “essential services.” However, as the Weddstock project progressed more taxpayer money was spent, corners were cut with town council procedures, and people were left confused about the purpose of the events.
The planning of the Weddstock project was rushed. For some reason this concert series was deemed necessary and urgent. There were a lot of obstacles to overcome in a short period of time. Mayor Anderson was determined to make it work. She used her position as mayor and her skills of persuasion to “fast track” the project. She also did a very good job of creating a difficult political situation for the town council.
No financial statements were submitted to the town council regarding Weddstock. Apparently the council felt that its responsibility to provide free music festivals was greater than its fiduciary responsibility.
First Mayor Anderson called a special meeting of the town council. She needed to get approval from the council to allow the sale of alcohol at Weddstock, so that Kids First could raise money by selling beer and wine at the events. She needed approval to have the town buy more liability insurance in case the town was sued over an alcohol related issue. She also needed the council to approve the $2,000 from the town. The $2,000 actually came out of the Parks and Recreation budget, but the Parks and Recreation Committee was never given the opportunity to vote on the matter.
Council members Barry and Gilmartin supported Mayor Anderson’s requests. Council members McKee and Thomisser voted no. Mayor Anderson broke the tie, and everything was granted. No one on the council proposed that the mayor recuse herself from the vote. Does requesting $2,000 of taxpayer money for a project which could help promote the mayor’s private business qualify as a conflict of interest? I think it at least warrants discussion by the council.
It has also been the practice of the council in the past to require financial statements before an organization receives town money. This was the case with Wesley Chapel-Weddington Athletic Association and the Providence Fire Department. No financial statements were submitted to the town council regarding Weddstock. Apparently the council felt that its responsibility to provide free music festivals was greater than its fiduciary responsibility.
After the first Weddstock event was held, the organizers discovered that the citizens who attended the event did not buy enough alcohol to cover the costs of the event. So, as with many failed business plans these days, the taxpayer was asked to give more. In this case, $3,000 more. When the request for the additional $3,000 came in, Mayor Anderson was out of town. The responsibility fell to Mayor Pro Tem Dan Barry. Dan Barry did not bother to have a special meeting. He simply made phone calls to the other council members to get their approval to give the additional $3,000. He got their approval and the check was sent. No financial statements were submitted to the town council.
After the second Weddstock event, organizers disclosed that Weddington citizens were still not buying enough alcohol at the event to cover the expenses and that two pledges from private donors had been withdrawn. Now the organizers wanted another $6,000.
To be continued…