City spending $40,000 to promote black fishing tournament

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 21, 2001

[03/21/01] Vicksburg will provide $40,000 to a tournament of black anglers over Memorial Day weekend in what will be the largest-ever allocation of public money to promote an event here.

The measure passed 2-1 in a city board meeting Monday with no discussion and no comment, but when questions were asked later, Mayor Robert Walker and North Ward Aldermen Gertrude Young said the event would be a bonanza for the city. South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb cast the dissenting vote, later saying it was a good idea, but the allocation was “out of whack.”

The Mega-Bucks Tournament is sponsored by the Sportsman’s Association of Black Bass Anglers, which is based in Decatur, Ga. The host club for the event is SABBA’s local affiliate, Ole River Bass Club of Jackson.

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The event was based in Greenville last year where $6,000 in public money was provided.

Members in Vicksburg include attorney Marshall Sanders, police Sgt. Jimmy Sweet, pilot Brady Tonth and dentist Dr. Kenneth Nash. Records from 1997 campaigns show Sanders donated $500 to Young’s re-election campaign and Dr. Nash gave $500 to Walker’s.

“This will make Vicksburg a destination city for an entire week,” Walker said when questioned. “They will be spending money with many types of people.”

He said the fishermen, their families and followers will be staying in local motels, eating in local restaurants and visiting local attractions.

“Vicksburg will be listed as a host city through the advertising we will be sponsoring,” Walker said. “We will get back more than we will spend in taxes and good will,” he said.

No budget for the money, plan for how it will be spent or explanation of any accounting procedure was provided. The budget will show it as “advertising.”

The tournament is scheduled for May 26-27, but contestants will arrive the week before to begin the week of practice fishing, said Shambani Watts of Jackson, SABBA vice president and tournament coordinator.

He also said white people are allowed to join the organization, but few do. To fish here, a contestant must have been a member for a year, and fish in a qualifying event on April 8.

The week will begin May 19 with a children’s fishing derby for youngsters from 6 to 15 years old.

“It will be held at City Front and we plan to net off a section and the day before the derby starts we’ll put between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds of catfish it it,” Watts said. “The children will be able to keep the fish and we suggest they bring a cooler.”

“This is way out of whack,” Habeeb said, pointing out $40,000 is about 2,000 percent more than what the city does for other organizations such as the Miss Mississippi Pageant, held here since the 1950s and in which Sanders’ daughter has been a finalist.

In the year 2000, spending on all advertising by the city totaled $12,386.

“I was willing to support them to the extent we support the pageant and that’s between $2,000 and $4,000,” Habeeb said.

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said that the tournament would do more than just generate tax dollars.

“We always say that we’re a tourist destination,” Young said. “But we can’t just say it; we have to show it.”

Mayoral candidate Eva Marie Ford said that the city could have found better ways to use the $40,000.

“I don’t think that that much money should have been allocated,” Ford said. “I really don’t think that money was wisely spent.”

Former mayor Joe Loviza, who will also be a candidate in the June 5 primary election, said that he did not agree with the city board’s decision.

“Public money should be used for the good of all the people,” Loviza said.

Laurence Leyens, who has often criticized the way city funds are spent, said he could not see spending public funds on a private event.

“I don’t understand it,” Leyens said. “I find it amazing that we’re spending that kind of money on something like this when we have people sitting here freezing because they can’t afford to have their gas turned on.”

“It’s a political move to help (Walker) get back in office,” said Eric Rawlings, who will face Walker in the Democratic primary election May 1. “I think this is wrong to the taxpayers black or white.”

Watts said SABBA has about 12,000 members nationally.