Contentious discussion leads to $7,000 from Myrtle Beach council for MLK events

01/08/2013 7:12 PM

01/08/2013 11:12 PM

In less than two weeks the Carolina African American Heritage Foundation will host its eighth annual weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. events, including a music competition, awards ceremony and parade.

On Tuesday, foundation chairman Bennie Swans requested $15,000 from the Myrtle Beach City Council to help fund the events – 11 days before they are set to begin. The council approved $7,000.

“Why are we getting a proposed budget on Jan. 8? [The late request] puts pressure on the council. … I don’t like last-minute tactics,” said Mayor John Rhodes. “As an organization you know when Martin Luther King weekend is every year – you shouldn’t have issues [preparing a budget]. … As a chairman, you should have had a budget six months ago.”

Many on the council expressed concern with not only with the late date of Swans’ request, but also with how the city’s money would be spent.

Swans explained that the timing of his request was not a tactic, but an error that he took responsibility for.

During the morning workshop, council members suggested appropriating a few different amounts ranging from $5,500 to $10,000 instead of the $15,000 originally requested.

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce also agreed to give the foundation $5,000 – the same amount as last year, said chamber spokeswoman Nora Battle. It is the fifth year the chamber has donated money to the events.

New this year will be Carolina Has Talent, “A Musical Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” The event expands on the previous gospel music competition, Swans said. The foundation will offer a $1,500 grand prize to the winner. The second-place winner will receive $1,000 and $500 will be awarded to the third-place winner.

Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means took issue with the potential for city funds to be used to pay award money. During the council meeting she proposed appropriating $6,000 to the foundation. However, her motion failed and Councilman Mike Lowder instead suggested to give the foundation $7,000.

“When we got down to the brass tax, about $7,000 to $7,300 was what they needed,” Lowder said of the foundation. “That’s why I suggested that amount versus Susan’s motion for $6,000.”

Means, who suggested funding only $5,500 during the council workshop, said she bumped up her suggestion to $6,000 because she knew some other council members felt the foundation should receive more money.

“I was coming to a compromise,” she said after the council meeting. “I didn’t think prize money was a legitimate use of taxpayer [funds].”

Swans agreed that no taxpayer money would be used to pay for the performer’s awards.

“Not [one] dollar will go toward prize money, and we can do an audit to reflect that,” he told the council.

The city gave $1,400 to the events last year, money Swans said went to risers and staging for the parade.

He said he hoped the foundation would be able to partner with businesses in the community and receive other sponsorships, but that didn’t happen.

“We can’t carry the load with company donations. Each year, each of the events has grown,” he said.

Rhodes strongly urged Swans to submit funding requests at least six months ahead of time for next year’s events, something Swans said he would do his best to do.

“I hear you loud and clear and I don’t mind taking a whooping [on this],” Swans told the mayor. He said he was happy to receive the funding he did, even if it wasn’t all he asked for.

“All in all, I thought it was a good day. It’s all about growing the organization and growing the event.”

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