Pink House squabble ‘very sad for our community,’ CEO says

Keep Macon Bibb Beautiful Commission CEO Pam Carswell, left, and other commission members listen as Beverly Olson speaks during a meeting Monday.
Keep Macon Bibb Beautiful Commission CEO Pam Carswell, left, and other commission members listen as Beverly Olson speaks during a meeting Monday. The Telegraph

The dispute between the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission and the Cherry Blossom Festival over shared office space is bad for both organizations — and the community, commission members said Monday.

Fourteen members gathered at the Tubman Museum in preparation for Tuesday’s called meeting by the Macon-Bibb County Commission. County Commissioner Bert Bivins has asked KMBBC, the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority to give presentations Tuesday.

About two weeks ago, the Cherry Blossom Festival requested that the beautification commission’s CEO, Pam Carswell, vacate her office in the Pink House headquarters.

KMBBC board Chairman Adam Cochran, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, said Carswell emailed more than two dozen people with the organization to announce Monday afternoon’s gathering. It is not yet clear whether a public announcement of the meeting was filed.

“It’s been very sad for our community and for both organizations. I hope tomorrow we can put this behind us, and we can get our organization back together and look for the future,” Carswell said. “We’re going to get it all straight tomorrow, and it’s going to be OK, because tomorrow it’s all about presenting factual information.”

During the meeting, Carswell said she thought some people had been trying to get her “removed.”

Former Macon Mayor David Carter, whose wife, Martha, serves on the KMBBC board, expressed concerns about the Cherry Blossom Festival’s asking Carswell to leave the Pink House.

“It’s going to tear up the community, and I think it’s going to hurt the Cherry Blossom Festival,” Carter told The Telegraph. “It’s disgusting to me, like a kindergarten fight down there.”

Carter, who was president of Macon City Council when the city deeded over the property at 794 Cherry St. to the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority in 1990, said KMBBC has just as much right to use the building as the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Although the development authority is listed as owner on the property tax records, the deed stipulates that the property be used by both organizations, or the land and any improvements revert back to the city of Macon.

“How can you evict someone that’s in their own house?” Carter asked.

Use of that land was restricted through a 1990 development authority grant for the property, he said.

“YKK donated money for the building, and we thought it was a great idea to put the Cherry Blossom building on the site,” Carter said.

Alex Morrison, executive director of the Urban Development Authority, said neither organization pays rent for the building.

The Carters, like others involved in the beautification commission, also have been very involved in the Cherry Blossom Festival over the years.

The founder of Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful, Carolyn Crayton, launched the festival from that organization in 1982. The groups became separate entities several years ago.

Morrison said the deed is “both specific and vague at the same time” as to what happens if one of the organizations leaves.

“I don’t think anybody at the time, 30-something years ago, anticipated circumstances like this would occur.”

The county has asked KMBBC to submit a detailed plan of action for beautification or risk $110,000 in funds for fiscal 2018.

Cochran had agreed with Cherry Blossom Festival board Chairman Don Bailey that Carswell would move out of the building for at least 30 days. Last week, Carswell stated she has “no plans to move.”

“We’re trying to work through what Cherry Blossom has asked us and move forward to better this community ... for the beautification of what the county and the mayor have asked us to do,” Cochran said Monday morning.

Neither Cochran nor Bailey would discuss specifically what led to the festival’s asking Carswell to move.

Chris Floore, Macon-Bibb County’s director of external affairs, has said issues with KMBBC “spilled into the halls.” Asked if there had been yelling or a disturbance in the building, Cochran said: “I can’t comment on personnel issues.”

During Monday’s meeting, KMBBC commissioner Lowell Register wondered if Carswell was being asked to leave the Pink House because of personality clashes between her and Cherry Blossom Festival staff.

“That is such a close-knit deal between Cherry Blossom and Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful,” he said. “The personalities have always got to be so intertwined, supportive of each other. If one doesn’t go in that direction, then that’s some serious problems.”

Carswell, who uses one office and two closets on the building’s first floor, said she doesn’t see the Cherry Blossom Festival workers much. Most of their offices are on the second floor, and Carswell is out of the building a lot for work.

“It appears that there has been board members that have been working to have me removed,” said Carswell, although she did not elaborate on which board she was referring to. “They’ve tried several things and I’m still standing. I think they want me gone.”

A memo on Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful letterhead submitted to the mayor before the October board meeting indicated that the organization was $34,000-$50,000 over budget as of August, according to a previous article. Carswell said Monday that certified public accountants told her what the issue was, although she wouldn’t disclose details. She assured KMBBC commissioners that there is nothing wrong with the budget, and that the commission is not in trouble.

“We hope they resolve their issues as quickly as possible,” Bailey said. “The Cherry Blossom Festival needs them to be successful in cleaning up the roads and gateways before the festival.”

Carter suspects the festival wants to take over the KMBBC, its former parent organization.

“I think it’s about money and power, and that’s the bottom line,” Carter said. “(Bailey’s) trying to act like a king down there.”

Bailey said that contention was “not worthy of comment.”

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea