Oyster Fest canceled

The second annual Oyster Fest scheduled for this Saturday was canceled Tuesday after event coordinators learned the city would not provide employees for the event.

Oyster Fest is hosted by the Waveland Community Coalition (WCC), which also organizes Wave Fest.

Last year’s Oyster Fest at the Garfield Ladner Pier drew more than 5,000 people to the city. For this year’s event, an even bigger crowd was expected, WCC President Charlie Cornelius said Tuesday.

“Last year, we threw the festival together in two weeks,” he said. “This year, we were planning to have about 40 vendors and three bands.”

City leaders had already agreed that fire department personnel did not need to be staged at the event since the department headquarters is only a few blocks away on Coleman Avenue.

Cornelius said he gathered from a meeting two months ago that the city was going to provide police and public works employees for the festival.

Last week, however, he said he was informed that WCC would have to pay for its own security.

WCC agreed to hire one of the police officers at an overtime rate, and the city agreed to have patrol officers available if needed at the event, Cornelius said.

On Monday, Cornelius said he had called to set up the public works employees and was told that they would not be free either.

Mayor David Garcia said Tuesday that the cash-strapped city just could not afford to pay overtime to any employees for the festival.

“We gave them the option to hire private people or pay for our employees to work the festival,” Garcia said.

Last year, a similar problem arose when the board of aldermen refused to fund services for Wave Fest after it was changed to a two-day event. The services were eventually funded by the Silver Slipper Casino.

Garcia said the cost for two public works employees working overtime for 12 hours would be a total of about $400.

“It’s just not Waveland’s place to provide workers to dump garbage cans at all of these festivals,” Garcia said.

Other local festivals, such as the Crab Fest, get free labor from Hancock County, which supplies inmates to clean and pick up trash.

Cornelius said asking the county for inmates was never discussed, nor did WCC seek volunteers to pick up the trash.

“We have never had inmates at any of the events,” he said.

He said the timing of the decision forced WCC’s hand, and it had “no choice” but to cancel the festival. In fact, he said, he had three people call him Monday evening and offer to pay for the services needed, but it was already “too late.”

He said it is “very disappointing” that the city did not want to take a more active role in the festival, especially since the festival benefits Waveland.

“We don’t have our name on the festival,” he said. “It’s the Waveland Oyster Fest, not the Waveland Community Coalition Oyster Fest. We wanted the city to be a partner in this. We do it for the city.”

Waveland’s financial problems of late have been well-documented. Earlier this year, the city implemented the former administration’s budget and laid-off more than a dozen employees. Waveland is also facing 10 federal lawsuits, and other legal challenges.

Cornelius said the city would have gotten much more in return than the $1,500 or so it was asked to provide for the festival.

“I understand everyone’s financial situation,” Cornelius said. “These festivals draw people to the city.”

Garcia said he does not understand why the festival had to be canceled over such a small amount of money.

“I don’t know how two men’s pay for one day is going to make you cancel the festival,” he said. “They (WCC) are a private organization, and we don’t get into telling them how to operate.”

Cornelius said this year’s cancellation will not hinder Wave Fest scheduled for this summer, and he hopes to have Oyster Fest return next year.

He said the WCC stands to lose $2,000-$3,000 on the event, since posters were already created and deposits already paid to the scheduled bands.

“I hope that this encourages a better understanding of how festivals have to be processed, planned and organized,” Cornelius said. “Like any other business, you lose money every time there’s a delay.”

 
BY: Dwayne Bremer
The Sea Coast Echo
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