Apopka commissioner calls for more diversity at city-funded festival

from the Orlando Sentinel

An Apopka commissioner is raising protest about a city-funded outdoor festival that he says seems geared predominantly toward whites.
Diversity at the Old Florida Outdoor Festival came up for discussion at Wednesday’s city council meeting after Commissioner Billie Dean asked a series of questions about how the February event is being planned.
“It seems … the Old Florida Festival is being centered around Caucasians,” said Dean, who is African-American.
Later, Dean said he wants to see more diversity on the event planning committee and in the entertainers who will take the stage. This year’s festival is being organized by an all-white group and headlined by three country music artists.
In response to Dean’s questions, City Administrator Glenn Irby noted that there are women serving on the planning committee and that the festival is being advertised on Spanish-language radio stations. The addition of a rodeo to the event might also appeal to a Hispanic audience, Mayor Joe Kilsheimer said.
The 5th annual festival is set for Feb. 12 to 14 at Apopka’s Northwest Recreation Complex and is billed as a celebration of Florida wildlife and outdoor recreation.
Highlights include a livestock show, a live alligator, hawk flight demonstrations and racing pigs. Chris Young and Parmalee are two of the country musicians scheduled to perform, and the third will be announced Friday.
The city has fronted about $350,000 to pay for the event but expects to recoup the funds from the revenue it generates, Irby said. The mayor said the city has already recovered about $100,000 from sponsorships and $25,000 from ticket sales.
Dean spoke up about the festival near the close of Wednesday’s meeting, declaring he had a list of questions for the city administrator. The exchange between the two chilled at several points, such as when Dean charged Irby with side-stepping his questions or giving a glib response.
“Is the city targeting a specific audience?” Dean asked at one point.
“Yes, those that like music,” Irby responded.
Dean also questioned why the event’s committee meetings aren’t open to the public. Allowing Apopka citizens into the room could help foster diversity in the planning process, the commissioner said.
Ten city officials and members of the public have been gathering in recent months to work on this year’s festival, a city spokesman said.
From the city, the group includes: Kilsheimer, Irby, the human resources director, the risk specialist, the assistant fire chief, the special events coordinator and the public information officer. Also present have been local businessman Paul Faircloth, who helps with the festival organization; Matt Jordan, creator of a local nonprofit called The Big Potato Foundation; and Wes Halliwell, who represents Cox Media, which coordinates concert setup and entertainers at the festival.
Irby said all of the committee members are white.
Last week, Apopka citizen Ray Shackelford was barred from sitting in on one of the festival’s planning sessions. Shackelford, 63, who is black, said he’d been allowed to attend on a previous occasion and wasn’t sure why he was excluded the second time around.
During Wednesday’s council meeting, the city attorney said the committee gathering did not fall under the state’s Sunshine Law and didn’t have to be open to the public.
But a day later, Apopka attorney Cliff Shepard said he’d changed his recommendation based on additional information he’d learned about the festival planning. Because the group is in charge of hiring musical performers and spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, Shepard said the Sunshine Law might apply to some of their decision-making meetings.
The attorney said city officials will begin to open those meetings to the public, provide notice of them and record minutes.

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