Black bass fishermen headed to S. Carolina

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 23, 2002

05/23/02]The fishing club that received $40,000 of Vicksburg’s money last spring has no government sponsors for its event this weekend in South Carolina.

“It won’t be in Vicksburg this year,” was all that Shambani Watts would say about the Sportsman’s Association of Black Bass Anglers’ Mega-Bucks tournament. Watts, of Jackson, is Mississippi vice president of the group.

This year’s site is the Savannah Lakes Resorts in McCormick, S.C., about 40 miles north of Augusta, Ga., according to other sources. Kenny Jones, director of McCormick’s department of recreation, said no one from SABBA approached officials there about advertising the event.

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“They didn’t even have a permit until Tuesday,” Jones said. “Most people don’t even know they are coming.”

A 2-1 city board vote with no discussion to allocate the $40,000 last spring triggered a furor of discussion with most who responded expressing outrage.

The organization held a fishing derby for children and a two-day tournament on the Mississippi River, but participation in the tournament was limited to members of SABBA or members of affiliated clubs.

Loosely worded state laws allow local governments to spend money on advertising aimed at promotion of communities. Former Mayor Robert Walker and North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said that the city was promoted through the event including a television program.

But former South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb and others complained that it was too much to spend on the single occasion when compared with how much is allocated for other events. The city routinely advertises with the Miss Mississippi Pageant, Red Carpet Bowl, Run Thru History and Over the River Run.

The most spent on those events is about $2,500 on the pageant, which is televised across the state and brings about 1,700 people to the city every year. About 200 fishermen participated in the tournament last, half as many as had been predicted by the organizers.

The grand prize for the tournament was two rigged bass boats for the winning team with each boat valued at $30,000.

SABBA’s event last year was its first in Vicksburg, and organizers had said they wanted to return. City officials said they were not approached this year about hosting the tournament again although Mayor Laurence Leyens said they would be welcomed and supported by the city.

Three years ago, Greenville was the host city. City officials there provided $6,000 for the event and the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau paid thousands more for motel rooms, fish for the youth derby, polygraph exams for participants and other itemized expenses.

Vicksburg’s new administration, which took office in July asked for, but did not receive, an accounting of how the donation was used by SABBA. By board vote, the inquiry was dropped last fall.

The 2001 event was promoted on the organization’s Web site. A check with that Internet address shows it has not been updated since the Vicksburg tournament.