Originally created 06/04/06

Failing the litmus test

If Augusta handled golf tournaments the way it just handled a music festival, there wouldn't be a Masters.

We've got to get our act together, folks.

Sure, it's just a music festival. But it's also something of a litmus test: If this community can't put on a first-class weekend festival to honor native son James Brown, that doesn't say much for our ability to do bigger things.

That means, first of all, dealing honestly with the elephant in the room - in this case, the fact that the festival was run into the ground by Charles Walker Jr.

Most knowledgeable Augustans knew his involvement was problematic from the start and, wishing not to be burned, kept their distance. Those brave souls who did get involved did, indeed, get burned, from bands to vendors to concert promoter Tom Clark to Clear Channel radio to City Hall and the sheriff's department. Sheriff Ronnie Strength, an eminently fair and helpful man, now says his department won't have anything to do with a Walker-run event in the future. Who can blame him?

Even the eternally optimistic and chronically diplomatic Mayor Deke Copenhaver said Thursday he would be "very skeptical if the city would want to get involved" with Walker again.

Authorities, in walking away from Walker, shouldn't turn a blind eye: The community has a right to know how much money the festival raised for Walker's pet charity, the Heritage Crest Foundation, and how the funds will be used. Using Walker's own crowd estimates, the festival should have taken in a minimum of $117,800, and perhaps much more.

Should that be allowed to disappear into his pockets?

We hope local, state and federal taxing authorities will take a close look at the festival's finances. We're especially skeptical of Walker's Heritage Crest Foundation - which ostensibly works for racial unity, but has no such activities to its credit that anyone is aware of. And Walker himself working for "racial unity" seems a sick joke, after credible reports from last weekend's festival of him making multiple racist remarks toward whites.

As for the city, it not only has to hold Walker accountable, then walk away from him, but has also got to get its own act together for the future.

We like the mayor's idea of forming a not-for-profit board to run the festival in the future. And he's right that we need not invent the wheel: There are plenty of other successful music festivals just in the Southeast after which to model this one.

The city needs to take the bull by the horns - not just on this issue, but on any number of issues. What about the lack of an impressive performing arts center and sports arena? What about riverfront development? What about rebuilding the area's political clout in Atlanta? What about reforming our local government to make it workable?

What we saw last weekend was more than a festival that crashed and burned. We saw the city's leadership void embodied.


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