ALBANY, Ga. -- Commissioners gridlocked Tuesday on whether to allow a downtown businessman organizing a new festival to have an alcohol license and whether he should pay full price for hosting the event.
Businessman Omar Salaam wants to bring Junkanoo, a festival indigenous to the Caribbean Islands that celebrates the end of African-American slavery, to Albany April 21.
In planning the event, Salaam has requested a one-day alcohol license to allow vendors to serve alcohol on downtown streets to people wearing armbands.
But while commissioners were deliberating whether to allow Salaam to sell adult beverages, the conversation shifted to whether Salaam should pay city fees that cover the costs associated with closing down streets and the overtime from city staff to clean and secure the festival area. That amount is a little more than $1,200, Downtown Manager Aaron Blair said.
The issue further digressed when comparisons were made between Junkanoo and the city's largest festival, the Mardi Gras street festival, which occurs downtown annually drawing tens of thousands of patrons.
Currently, city staff doesn't charge the organizers of the Mardi Gras festival because, as City Manager James Taylor said, the organizers have formed a non-profit organization that has put on the event for ten years at no real cost to the city.
Mardi Gras organizers, Taylor said, put on the event each year in a way that is meant to pay for the next year's event, not to mention the festival draws hordes of people downtown which provides an economic impact.
Junkanoo, by contrast, is in its first year and is being organized by a group of private individuals who hope to make a profit from the event.
Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell asked Salaam if the city agreed to wave the fees and cost for hosting the festival this year, if he would be better prepared to pay them next year, to which he answered yes.
Postell then offered a substitute motion to one that was already on the table that would grant Salaam the license and waive the fees.
The substitute motion failed 3-2-1, with Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines abstaining, Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard and Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff voting against. Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike and Postell voting in favor.
The original motion -- which was to grant Salaam the license based on his ability to pay the fees -- was then voted on. It too failed 3-2-1, with Howard and Postell voting against, Hubbard, Pike and Langstaff voting in favor and Hines abstaining.
Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta was absent from the meeting.
Regardless of the how the vote turned out, commissioners will still have to take up the issue at a special called meeting which has been set for April 17 at 8:30 a.m.
Work session votes are non-binding and since the Junkanoo festival is scheduled for April 21 -- three days before the city's voting meeting on April 24 -- a special called meeting has to be called for any action to be taken.