Originally created 06/02/06

Mayor suggests 'overhaul'

Any future festival to honor James Brown would need a "complete overhaul," Augusta's mayor said Thursday.

Given the outcome of last weekend's James Brown Soul of America Music Festival, Mayor Deke Copenhaver was pessimistic about whether the city would support any future festival headed by Charles "Champ" Walker.

"At this point, I would be very skeptical if the city would want to get involved," he said.

He's not alone.

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said Thursday his office wouldn't be involved in any future events with Mr. Walker at the helm.

He said he wasn't interested in working again with Mr. Walker because of "sheriff's personnel being blamed for things they did not do." He was referring to a dispute between deputies and Mr. Walker over security staffing and pay that marred Sunday's events.

Sheriff Strength said his office will always enforce the law but couldn't be required to provide security for any festival run by Mr. Walker.

In response, Mr. Walker said Thursday he didn't need the sheriff's support.

"We wouldn't ask him to be involved," he said in an e-mail. "We still are trying to figure out why we had to pay ($10,000) for an event when one local promoter paid $4,500 for a similar event but had more beer stands.

"The sheriff has been very vindictive and we expect more harassment, but we are not finished with his statements and last Sunday's (occurrence) either."

Mr Walker's e-mail also said Robert Howard, the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department, told "several witnesses" that the sheriff had a premeditated plan to arrest Mr. Walker if he refused to pay deputies.

"That's a bald-faced lie," Mr. Howard said Thursday evening. "I backed the sheriff's department 100 percent."

As for Mr. Copenhaver, Mr. Walker's e-mail said, "I don't expect for a mayor to support me on a festival when I'm working to get him out of office ... At least (former mayor) Bob Young let everybody (know) that he was a (closet) racist. This guy whom I do like, just talks but he won't help this city grow. Whenever The Chronicle doesn't write one negative story about you, there's something terribly wrong."

Mayor Pro Tem Marion Williams said he is not yet ready to jettison Mr. Walker, but said Thursday he needs more information about what happened this year before he'll say whether Mr. Walker should run such an event in the future.

"I don't know whether Champ Walker is or is not the person to run the festival. He made some mistakes," Mr. Williams said. "We (the city) set him up to fail, and he took advantage of it. We didn't support this thing like we should have. Everybody should have been behind it."

Mr. Copenhaver said a meeting of city officials to talk about what went wrong and how to avoid such problems next year has yet to be set.

"We've got a lot to overcome if we are going to have a successful festival next year," Mr. Copenhaver said.

He said Augusta should look into a model based on established successful music festivals in other cities. Many festivals, such as this month's Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga, Tenn., are run by nonprofit corporations, headed by a board of directors and established with the sole purpose of organizing and promoting a city festival.

That's the kind of overhaul Mr. Copenhaver said he has in mind, including a new organization and a professional board of directors to run such a festival.

"You've got to go with what works," Mr. Copenhaver said.

Reach Steve Crawford at (706) 823-3424 or steve.crawford@augustachronicle.com.


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