Jan. 31, 2006 – If the fireworks at Carnival 2006 are half as good as those provided by the Carnival Committee at its annual press conference, "Glamor and Glitz for Carnival 2006" will be a lively event.
These meetings over the last few years have been notably contentious, largely because of the committee's steadfast refusal to open its books. Tuesday was no exception.
Committee Chair Kenneth Blake opened up the meeting by announcing that the committee had decided to turn down a $350,000 contract with the Department of Tourism.
"The executive board voted last night not to sign the contract," Blake said, "unless we can negotiate it. It mentions travel expenses, and we don't even travel. And it says we cannot subcontract. We are not comfortable with it."
Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards, who spoke after Blake, said she has met with the committee four times. She said the contract is a standard document used by the Department of Justice for all contracts.
Blake said further that the contract was not enough, despite the fact that this year's offer was $50,000 more than the Senate approved for the 2005 event. He said Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. had tried to get a further appropriation, but it was voted down.
Blake said this year's celebration is honoring Nicholas Friday, as well as two others: calypsonians Beryl Hill and Marvin "Tight Shirt" Bonelli. He said the committee needed extra funds to properly honor the three.
Carnival Village will be named "Friday's Road March Kingdom," Blake said — a name suggested by his daughter, Dulani Hill.
Blake said Carnival will go on. "We will put on some kind of carnival, and we will get private sponsors; something people can at least enjoy."
He touted Carnival's annual contribution to the government coffers. Blake added, "It [carnival] brings in $65 million a year, according to the director of the IRB." (This figure is seemingly brought up at every meeting).
Blake also noted that USA Today has voted the V.I. Carnival fifth in the world.
Blake had some news about the committee's by-now infamous books. The committee sued the Legislature over the matter and lost and were directed by the court to open its books.
Blake said the committee welcomed the Inspector General doing an audit of its records. He said he had gone to IG Steven van Beverhoudt last fall, but "he said he didn't have enough staff to do the audit right away. So, we hired our own accountant and submitted his audit to the IG. We are hoping to hear his report soon." He added, "Once Carnival gets going, we won't have enough time for accounting matters."
Van Beverhoudt said Tuesday afternoon, "We met in last October or November, and I told them I needed more information. They said they would get an accountant to do the audit, and they would provide all the papers for me. They did provide us with a financial statement, but the paperwork wasn't complete.
"I told them I needed more information on the revenue side, collections and controls. I talked to them within the last two weeks," van Beverhoudt said." Their accountant is not a CPA. I skimmed over what he has handed to us, but I need to read it through. All I saw was three pages of narratives and bank statements, almost identical for each year. I need to know how they generate these numbers."
Van Beverhoudt said he wasn't certain when he will be finished with the audit.
Blake said, "I have a problem when people say that Caswil [committee executive director Caswil Callender] and Blakey are the committee. They need to shift focus from us to the carnival committee. We fight for what is right, we are not afraid."
Callender took up where Blake left off. He said, "It defies logic that this administration hasn't seen fit to provide us with enough money, when we bring in a gigantic $65 million a year."
"The benefits are evident," he said. "K'misha-Victoria Counts, 2005 V.I. Carnival Queen was voted Ms. Best Talent in the 2005 Miss World Competition in China with an audience of over two million."
He also said, "We are vilified by many in this community, but no one has been able to say that any of this is true. We are confident an audit will be positive. We now have to put out a call for sponsors."
Richards finally spoke: "It is commendable that you should honor the memory of these three people. You should honor them, money or not, because it is the right thing to do. You say you fight for what is right and you are not afraid of anyone. Well, neither am I. I am accountable to the people of the Virgin Islands."
She continued, "The intent of this contract is to set up accountability. Anything over $10,000 requires a contract. It is standard procedure. The travel expense was taken out because it's not applicable. The subcontracting clause means you cannot subcontract the event.
"After 54 years, I should think you would not have to rely solely on government funds," she said. "A community is judged by its volunteerism, and you have a good event."
Richards reminded Blake and Callender, "I gave you $75,000 before the contract was signed, and upon receipt of the signed contract the balance will be handed to you."
O 'Bryan, clearly aggravated by the tone of the meeting, said, "I'm angered at what takes us back. I'm pretty annoyed about the committee's negative message. The Virgin Islands government has contributed much more than the amount in question, and you know that. WAPA, Public Works, the Police Department – it's probably about $4 million or $5 million.
"The government wants to work with you. You put people on the defensive. Not telling the whole truth is sending sponsors away. The $350,000 is pocket change."
Blake said, "I don't think it's bad; it's bad to some people. The records are here in this office and anyone is welcome to come and check them. We are writing letters and phoning sponsors now," hinting strongly that he has a big sponsor in the wings.
It was suggested by someone in the audience that the committee hire someone to fund-raise, an idea Richards seconded. "You can hire a professional fund-raiser who would take 15 or 20 percent, and the rest would be yours. If he makes nothing, you pay nothing."
O 'Bryan said he was "confident" that things would work out with the contract. "It's not so extreme," he said. He made a pledge: "I will make sure the horse races are the best in history, and I will raise the money myself, and honor Nick properly."
After the heated exchange with Richards and O 'Bryan, Blake said after the meeting, "I will not sign nothing that will come back to haunt me."
Sen. Craig Barshinger said he had hoped the "clouds are parting," adding, "It's a case of testosterone poisoning we're all suffering from."
Sen. Liston Davis also attended the meeting, along with representatives from the offices of Sens. Lorraine Berry, Roosevelt David, Louis Hill and Shawn-Michael Malone.
Here is a schedule of this year's Carnival activities:
— April 9: Prince and Princess Selection Show, 5 p.m. at the Lionel Roberts Stadium.
— April 15: Queen's Selection Show, 8 p.m. at the Lionel Roberts Stadium.
— April 16: Toddlers Derby, 5 p.m. at the Lionel Roberts Stadium; traditional games, 7 p.m. at the Lionel Roberts Stadium.
– -April 17: Carnival at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital, 6 p.m., Hospital Lobby (First floor).
— April 18: Jr. Calypso Monarch Competition, 8 p.m., Lionel Roberts Stadium.
— April 19: Cruzan Cultural Night/King & Queen of the Band, 8 p.m. at the Lionel Roberts Stadium.
— April 21:Opening of Carnival Rides,6 p.m. at the Fort Christian Parking Lot.
— April 22: Heineken Calypso Revue, 8 p.m. at the Lionel Roberts Stadium.
— April 23: Steelband Jamboree, 5 p.m. at the Lionel Roberts Stadium.
– April 24: Opening of "Friday's Road March Kingdom," 6 p.m. at the Fort Christian Parking Lot.
– April 25: Pre-Teen Tramp, 6 p.m. from the Rothschild Francis Market Square to Carnival Village; Senior Citizens' Quelbe Tramp, 8 p.m. from Market Square to Carnival Village.
— April 26: Cultural Fair – "Isalyne's Caribbean Corner" honoring Evelyn Lloyd., 8 a.m. at Emancipation Garden.
— April 27: Roas-a-time (J'ouvert), 4 a.m. along Veterans Drive; Coors Light V.I. Calypso Competition, 8 p.m. at the Lionel Roberts Stadium. Coors Light V. I. Calypso Competition in remembrance of Marvin "Tight Shirt" Bonelli, 8 p.m., Lionel Roberts Stadium.
— April 28: Children's Parade,10 a.m. from Market Square to Lionel Roberts Stadium.
— April 29: Adults' Parade, 10 a.m. Western Cemetery to Lionel Roberts Stadium. Last Lap 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fort Christian Parking Lot.
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