The city of Apalachicola has agreed to serve as a liaison between Main Street and a future party, presumably a non-profit, in transitioning running of the city’s annual Independence Day Eve Celebration.
The hammering out of the city’s role in assisting the transition came about following a lengthy back-and-forth between members of the Apalachicola city commission over whether the city would have an active hand in running the event.
Prior to the Jan. 3 meeting, Main Street informed city officials that they would no longer facilitate the annual Third of July Celebration, which the memo by City Manager Travis Wade termed the 3OJ event.
Instead, in a proposal jointly presented by Wade and Mayor Brenda Ash, the city would oversee the event in July 2023, and commence immediately with the transition.
The proposal called for city staffer Sheneidra Cummings and Mark Gerspacher, the city’s finance director, in conjunction with Commissioner Adriane Elliott to oversee the transition.
“A Main Street representative has offered to meet with the city’s team and provide all vendor contacts and information, along with any other pertinent information,” read the proposal.
The idea was to continue to have sponsorships cover the event expenses, with the event’s proceeds used to assist with city programs, including but not limited to the Margaret Key Library and Apalachicola Police Department.
“The 3OJ team will coordinate with businesses, nonprofits, and individual volunteers to implement and execute the plan,” read the proposal. “A special account will be set up for this purpose. Any upfront cost will be offset from the sponsorship proceeds. If the plan is executed properly, there will be a smooth transition.”
City Attorney Dan Hartman recommended that the city turn to a partner, preferably a non-profit, to handle obtaining the sponsorships. “The city can lend support,” said Hartman. “But the city would not directly solicit money for the fireworks.”
Commissioner Despina George expressed concern that the city commission was not directly involved in drawing up the proposal, and asked whether the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce had been asked to take part.
“We can support the event but we’re not event planners,” she said.
George also asked whether tables would be sold on the dock of Riverfront Park, a Main Street fundraising tool that she has long opposed, calling it the “King George III” section at a patriotic celebration she argues that all citizens, regardless of finances, should have an equal part.
“Will it be a different kind of event, where all citizens have access?” she asked, and then recommended the motion be tabled for further investigation.
Commissioner Anita Grove argued strongly that the city should not be in the business of soliciting funds. “Our staff is stretched already,” she said. “This takes a lot of energy, that stuff takes a long time.”
A former director of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, Grove stressed that she is familiar with the demands of event planning, and stood firm against having the city take an active hand in it. “I’ve actually produced events like this,” she said. “It’s a lot of work.”
Commissioner Adriane Elliott said she was “a huge fan of taking it over,” and said the sponsorships could serve as a creative revenue stream for the city.
“We can’t table this right now,” she said, stressing that a separate bank account would be set up for the event.
Ash said that the 3OJ provides an economic boost to the city, and pushed that the city take an active hand in moving the event forward, while making clear that she did not support the city dictating what if any non-profit would handle it going forward.
“I don’t want to see this tabled,” she said.
Hartman said there was no prohibition against the city accepting money to run the event, but that it could create “the appearance of impropriety. But there is no legal impediment.”
As the discussion continued, there was much arguing over semantics, and it was eventually agreed that city staff would work with Main Street “to transition 3OJ event to another non-profit entity.”
This motion eventually passed 3-1, with Ash opposed.
The future of Main Street as an active organization appears to be uncertain.
“Main Street has decided to take a step back to reassess our objectives and goals and determine what is best for our district,” said Jim Bachrach, chairman of the board. “We have not shut our doors.”