Young says $40,000 paid for booklets, TV spots

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 25, 2001

[07/25/01] North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said Tuesday that it was a “miscommunication” that information about how $40,000 was spent in relation to a fishing tournament was never turned into the City Clerk’s Office.

Young, who along with former Mayor Robert Walker voted to allocate the money to the Sportsman’s Association of Black Bass Anglers, said she and Walker were provided souvenir booklets from the three-day fishing tournament Memorial Day weekend.

“It was a miscommunication,” Young said. “I thought the mayor was going to turn his in so I could keep mine.”

Along with printing the booklets, Young said the money had gone to help produce a television program about the tournament and Vicksburg. She said the program is due to air after the first of the year on Fox and ESPN television networks.

Under state law, public money may be allocated for promotion of communities to visitors, potential residents or employers. Guidelines are not specific, but general or charitable donations are illegal.

“Once I locate the booklet, I’ll turn it over to the City Clerk,” Young said.

About two weeks before leaving office, former South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb asked City Clerk Walter Osborne to seek an accounting from SABBA. Osborne has said since that several phone calls to Shambani Watts, vice president of SABBA, had yielded no results. He also said he would request an accounting in writing.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, who during his campaign occasionally called the expenditure wasteful, said Tuesday he asked Osborne to gather information on how the money was spent to put an end to questions.

“I’m not interested in going back in time and creating divisiveness,” Leyens said. But, “we’ve got to get closure on it.”

In March, Habeeb voted against making the unbudgeted allocation. According to figures provided by the organization, about 200 fishermen from across the nation participated in the Mega-Bucks Bass Tournament. That number was about half as many as predicted by city officials who said the tournament would yield an economic impact of $1.2 million in Vicksburg. For that impact, each fisherman would have needed to spend $6,000.

After a tournament two years ago in Washington County, details of checks written there were made available by that county’s convention and visitors bureau, which paid a lot of SABBA’s bills. Expenses included fish for the youth derby, polygraph exams for anglers and more than $7,000 in motel bills.