March 28, 2006 – Cutbacks in this year's Carnival schedule are possible if the Tourism Department doesn't sign a contract with the V.I. Carnival Committee or release $350,000 in Legislature-appropriated funding for the events, Kenneth Blake, V.I. Carnival Committee chairman, said Tuesday.
During a press conference held at the committee's headquarters in downtown Charlotte Amalie, Blake said Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards has refused to sign a contract between the organization and the department outlining how Carnival would be run and how $350,000 appropriated by the Legislature for Carnival would be spent.
He said since a contract has not yet been signed by the two entities, Tourism has opted to hold onto the money until the Legislature determines whether the funds should be disbursed as a government grant or a subsidy.
"I don't know why this needs to be done," Caswil Callender, the committee's executive director, said during the conference. "Attorney General Kerry E. Drue has already sent a letter addressing these concerns. Why do they still need to go back to the Legislature? Some committee members are expending their personal funds while a check still sits in the department . We urge Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to direct the Tourism Commissioner to immediately release the funds appropriated for Carnival."
Blake added that he was surprised at this move from Richards, because the committee and Tourism had negotiated a "good faith" agreement earlier this month.
He explained that Tourism had submitted an initial contract in January, which committee members did not sign because it refers to the committee as a "contractor" of the V.I. government (See "Carnival Committee Refuses Contract With Tourism Department").
"That was a sticking point for us," Blake said after the press conference. "Because what it means is that the committee is getting paid to provide the government with services, and we didn't support that."
He said the committee met with Assistant Tourism Commissioner Monique Sibilly-Hodge earlier on March 6 and negotiated a "more open" agreement, taking this clause – and other bones of contention – out. "I thought we had negotiated in good faith, but then I received a call from Sibilly-Hodge two hours later saying that Commissioner Richards did not support the contract because she was not present during the negotiations," Blake said.
Blake added that during a subsequent meeting with Tourism, the committee was presented with the original contract submitted by the department in January – which included provisions requiring the committee to let the government know when they were traveling off island and allowing the governor and Tourism representatives opportunities to speak at any Carnival event.
Since the release of the funding is tied to the contract, Blake said there might be cuts in this year's Carnival programming.
"The entire event generally costs about $2.2 million, and right now we have zero," he said when asked during the press conference. "And while we are able to take care of some of those costs through volunteers and sponsorship or donations from the community to pay people like electricians, carpenters and truckers, we do still need the funding the government appropriates us. So, funding is definitely an issue."
When asked, Blake said he could not yet specify which items, if any, would be cut from the Carnival 2006 schedule.
Blake could also not provide any specifics on whether or not the government is organizing another group to run Carnival. "We have all heard rumors that there's another group forming, and that there have been meetings," he said. "But we don't know who they are, if they're getting any money or anything. But if someone else wants to come in and do this, then we welcome them – people don't seem to know how hard running Carnival is, so they would get to experience it firsthand. Everyone believes the event is a Caswil [Callender] and "Blakey" thing, and they're doing a lot to spite us since we love to ask questions and stand up for ourselves."
During the conference, Callender added to Blake's comments by saying that he "sees a concerted effort" by some senators and ex-committee members to "sabotage" Carnival.
"This would then fuel the emotions of the masses, making it easier to justify a takeover," he said. "Obviously, those who would be placed in leadership positions to organize Carnival would be ones who are easily manipulated. We cannot allow this to happen. Carnival would be an extremely powerful tool in the hands of a politician."
However, Callender wrapped up his statements Tuesday by saying, "While there may be a significant reduction in the Glamour and Glitz, there will be a Carnival 2006."
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