Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful could lose funds as Cherry Blossom Festival wants them out

The Cherry Blossom Festival has ordered its founding organization, Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission, out of its “Pink House” headquarters seen here in the Telegraph file photo.
The Cherry Blossom Festival has ordered its founding organization, Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission, out of its “Pink House” headquarters seen here in the Telegraph file photo. wmarshall@macon.com

For 43 years, the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission has been charged with beautifying the community, but things got a little ugly at the last board meeting.

Board members learned that the Cherry Blossom Festival wants the commission to move out of the Pink House headquarters, and Macon-Bibb County is threatening to pull the $110,000 for the organization in the fiscal 2018 budget.

Members appeared stunned by the announcement and scolding from county leaders at Thursday’s meeting.

“We were blindsided,” Pam Carswell, the commission’s president and CEO, said Friday. “We don’t know what their motive is.”

Macon-Bibb County is not funding $110,000 for drama. We’re funding $110,000 for litter pickup.

Chris Floore

Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore said that over the last few months complaints about KMBBC have been filtering up to the mayor’s office.

“We’re upset that whatever issues they’re going through were spilling into the hall and all the way up to Government Center and the mayor’s office,” Floore said. “We’re hearing about this from the community, and it’s interfering with the mission of the organization.”

He indicated that members of the commission’s board have expressed concerns, as well as county commissioners and the public.

Floore said the county has pumped millions of dollars into fighting blight, yet many people question what Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful is doing to tackle the continual litter problem.

“We’re hearing litter is not being picked up,” Floore said. “Macon-Bibb County is not funding $110,000 for drama. We’re funding $110,000 for litter pickup.”

Don Bailey, the Cherry Blossom Festival board chairman, would not go into the “personnel issues” behind the festival’s telling the commission to vacate its office by 5 p.m. Oct. 27.

The initial request was for the KMBBC office to be cleared out by 5 p.m. Friday, but Bailey reached an agreement with the commission’s board chair, Adam Cochran, to give them an extra week.

“We’ve asked them to relocate while they work out their issues,” Bailey said. “For the time being, we just feel like they need to look for another place to house their office.”

Carswell is the only KMBBC employee currently housed at the festival headquarters at the corner of Cherry and New streets.

“It’s just me, and I’m never there. I come in and I go out,” Carswell said.

The Cherry Blossom Festival was founded out of Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful in 1982.

Carolyn Crayton launched KMBBC in 1974 through a joint resolution from Macon and Bibb County, which were two separate governments until consolidation in 2014.

The organizations became separate nonprofits several years ago.

Crayton declined to comment about the rift, deferring to Bailey and Cochran.

Thursday’s tense board meeting ended with the resignations of treasurer Billy Oliver and treasurer-elect Jean Bragg.

Macon-Bibb County officials, including Floore, Acting County Manager Julie Moore and county attorney Judd Drake, attended the meeting and presented concerns over the commission’s failure to present reports on finances and the commission’s activities.

Floore gave the commission 90 days to submit a report or lose the public funds.

He said KMBBC needs to have a detailed strategy to tackle trash issues in addition to the county’s regular services.

“We’re doing all the work,” Floore said.

He cited the county’s picking up seven tons of litter since Jan. 1 through Parks and Recreation, prisoners and county probationers.

“We made no accusation of misdeeds or that they’re not doing their jobs. We just need to know what they’re doing,” Floore said. “We have to be good stewards of public funds, and $110,000 would go a long way to buying pickup sticks and safety vests to give to neighborhood groups that want to do the work.”

Carswell is puzzled because she said KMBBC was praised during the last budget process, which increased funding by about $20,000 from $90,000 in the last fiscal year.

As far as being delinquent in financial reports, Carswell said the commission changed accountants, and the audit is in process, but it is not due until March.

She also said that before consolidation, she submitted status reports to Bibb County Chairman Sam Hart, but that Mayor Robert Reichert told her she didn’t need to do that.

“He said you’re doing a good job, we know what you’re doing and you don’t have to send me anything every month,” she said.

Bailey said the Cherry Blossom Festival wishes KMBBC the best.

“We support their organization and we look forward to them moving back into the house one day,” he said.

Carswell is not sure they will ever leave.

The festival and KMBBC have a 50-50 interest in the building, according to the deed, Carswell said.

“We are continuing our day-to-day operation,” she said.

That includes Saturday’s major clean-up that was planned for months in conjunction with Mercer University, Shalom Zones and other neighborhoods.

The KMBBC board will be meeting next week, she said.

“We’re just waiting to see what happens.”

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines