After debate totaling nearly 20 minutes — more than double the amount of time they spent discussing a proposed $45 million budget — Nottoway Supervisors voted Thursday to give $500 to the Town of Blackstone for its Juneteenth celebration. That vote was 3-0 with Supervisor Sherman Vaughn abstaining.
Moments earlier, Vaughn had moved to deny the request, but was outvoted 3-1 with John Roark absent due to illness.
The Board’s decision followed a request in April by Wanda Dyson of the Juneteenth Committee, which is not a 501c3 organization.
Vaughn emphasized that Supervisors over the years have received numerous requests from various organizations but have declined for fear of setting precedent and being accused of improper spending of taxpayer money. He also said Supervisors, when confronted with popular requests in the past, such as money for traveling All-Star baseball and softball teams, have reached into their own pockets and given individually.
County Administrator Ted Costin said the County has an out — it could legally give money to the Town, and he recommended $500.
Vaughn remained adamant. “We have not been giving to organizations that come to us…if you think of the various organizations in the county, there are many of them. This Board would constantly be donating.”
Costin said state law does not require any body to continue with donations once it begins.
Vaughn, however, said the practical effect would be “opening the gate” and the public’s expectations would only increase.
Supervisor Steve Bowen said he understands Vaughn’s rationale, “but when I started reading the vision of the Juneteenth Committee…it’s a celebration to assist with the vision of accepting each other and educating others on Black history.”
Bowen said from what he’s read and been told, the Juneteenth Festival “isn’t a drunkfest” and “it’s not a Chicken Festival…I mean, I hear you, brother,” he told Vaughn. “But we have a great divide in this country right now…and their vision is really to educate people.”
Bowen’s show of support was greeted by muttered appreciation from the audience: “Thank you, Massa” and “Yes, Massa” in the audience from Thomas Taylor of Blackstone. (Taylor earlier in the meeting added “Happy Father’s Day” to the end of the Pledge of Allegiance.)
Vaughn called the event “a beautiful affair. I’m not against the affair…There are many organizations in this county, and when you give to one but not another, that leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths.”
After Vaughn’s motion to deny the request failed, he said, “I know I’m gonna be called ‘Scrooge.’”
Bowen said the County needs to increase its $2,000 annual donation to each town for recreation and expand how that money can be spent. He also reminded Vaughn that the County’s contributions for recreation have been stagnant for 20 years.
Assistant County Administrator and Finance Director, Katy Tomer, reminded officials that youth recreation in Nottoway is now consolidated between Blackstone and Crewe-Burkeville. “It’s one large entity now in the county, and I don’t think the other two towns contribute in the same manner that Blackstone does.”
Supervisor Helen Simmons moved to donate $500 to Blackstone, which provided $5,000 last year and $5,000 again this year for Juneteenth, to offset costs incurred by this year’s celebration.
That motion passed, 3-0 with Vaughn abstaining.
Moments later, Supervisors voted 4-0 in favor of a request last month, by volunteer Beverley Ambs of Blackstone, to waive County dumpster rental fees during a June 11th cleanup of Greenview Cemetery near Blackstone.
Supervisors had less trouble with the Greenview request after Administrator Costin called it an “in-kind donation” after the fact.