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Columbia County Observer

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Florida Gateway College Board Unanimously Votes to End Support for Olustee Battle Festival


   Board Chair Suzanne Norris                                             FGC President Dr. Larry Barrett

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night, Florida Gateway College (FGC) Board Chair Suzanne Norris was the only board member who exhibited any discomfort with the support of Lake City's infamous Olustee Battle Festival, which celebrates the victory of the South over the North in the 1864 Battle of Olustee in Baker County.


FGC board member from Dixie County, Kathryn McInnis. All FGC board members are appointed by the Governor.

FGC President Larry Barrett signed a contract in July supporting the festival. He explained last night that he made his decision to sign the contract because it was "the decision that the previous two other presidents have made and it is just a traditional thing that we've always done."

According to Confederate memoirs and letters, after the battle, Confederate troops killed most of the wounded and black Union soldiers.

Background

At the last FGC board meeting it was determined that the contract between the college and the Blue Gray Army to support the Olustee Battle Festival would be pulled and a new decision would be made after receiving a report from college president Dr. Barrett.

On December 10, 2018, Dr. Barrett mailed the report to the board members. His report was not included in the agenda materials for the January 8, 2019 board meeting and neither was the contract that was up for approval. The public was intentionally kept in the dark.

January 8, 2019 Your reporter addresses the FGC board

Long, an outspoken critic of the glorification of the Olustee Battle and public funding of the event, your reporter addressed the board.

"The Olustee Festival. I was told that there was going to be a report. There was no report. I downloaded the agenda from FL Gateway College website. Tonight, I get this report and a hard time by you (board chair Norris) that it was in the agenda. While Dr. Barrett is shaking his head no, you are telling me it is in the agenda. What I can't figure out is, 'Why is it in the agenda for you guys, but not in the agenda for the public.' Maybe you could come up with an answer for that... The Olustee Festival, which really is the Olustee Battle Festival, it's still on the consent agenda. You guys giving them money. It has been a point of contention in this community for years and decades. The Civil War didn't end in 1865 or 66 or 67, or 1870 or 1900. The terrorism against black folks in America is still ongoing, and for you to approve any money...  The board should reject this (the contract giving a donation to the Blue Gray Army) it just continues the racism in the south that has gone on for centuries and decades and continues to this day..."

Your reporter continued:  "I just ask you to consider this. You don't see the Indians celebrating the Wounded Knee Festival. You don't see the German's celebrating the Auschwitz Festival. You don't see the losers generally celebrating their losses. They lost the war. This might be a news flash to this board. I'm sure it's not a news flash to Dr. Barrett.... They lost. L-O-S-T, lost. To say that you are not contributing to the Olustee Battle when you write this check is wrong."

"I think this should be pulled from the consent agenda and voted on as a separate item."

Fifteen minutes later, after an award ceremony, Board Chair Norris removed the Olustee item from the consent agenda to be acted on separately.

 
The Olustee Festival Facebook page speaks for itself.

Ms. Norris addressed President Barrett, asking him to "tell us what obligations in the past have been and I would like to have you tell us what you propose in the future for our involvement in Olustee."

Dr. Barrett responded, "In the past it's been a $500 donation to -unintelligible- the Olustee Foundation for basically publications or setting up a booth in the arts and crafts area in downtown Lake City. We went back about 23 years and the college has done it for 23 consecutive years. That's as far back as I could go back."

Dr. Barrett continued, "I signed the contract back in August of 2018 before anything was brought up about this. I made the decision. It is up to the board to decide. At this point, I always suggest to the board and to my staff and they back me up on this, anytime an issue becomes a distraction for the mission of this institution I try to back that out, because our mission is regarding students and success in graduation. That's what we're here to do. So when controversy happens we should address it. We are a public institution, but on the other hand we have been doing it in years past and so that's why I signed the contract. I am not defending myself. I think I made the decision that the previous two other presidents have made and it is just a traditional thing that we've always done." 

Dr. Barrett concluded, "In the future, if we continue to have the controversy regarding this, I do not think we should be a sponsor of this. It takes away from the main mission of this institution, which is our students and education."

"$500 dollars is not going to make or break the Olustee Festival."


Board member Dr. James Surrency (Gilchrist County)

Ms. Norris took over and asked, "Any other comments or questions.... The dollar amount is not the issue, the actual sponsorship and what we want to do going forward is the question. I guess we could renege on the commitment... Five hundred dollars is not going to make or break the Olustee Festival. I open it up for conversation from the board of trustees."

There is silence.

"I am not a fan of the Olustee Festival"

Ms. Norris continued, "I am not a fan of the Olustee Festival... When I was market[ing] president for another banking organization I discontinued our sponsorship. But I also gave them a soft landing. I did not immediately cut it. I always gave them a warning bell... I don't want to renege on things that the college president has had an opportunity, that was in his authority to sign, but I personally wouldn't want to see us necessarily sponsor it going forward."

Ms. Norris again asks for comments. There were none.

Dixie County board member Kathryn McInnis: "Do you need a motion?"

Ms. Norris follows up, "It's a motion for approval of the contract as it stands, for the one that's out there that he's already signed for this year's festival. There are no other comments or questions about it?"


Board member Dr. Miguel Tepedino (Columbia County)

Board member Dr. Miguel Tepedino:  "I think in regards to just following through to the commitment you may or may not have already made, I think you have, moving forward - I agree with you, the $500 not being a big deal, but I think if there are potential faculty or members of the student body - that's who we represent. That's why we make decisions... I think it is in the purview of the president and you being the chairwoman to make the decision as to what we do. I am completely fine with whichever decision you guys go with, as well."

Board Attorney Marlin Feagle (whispers to Norris and is barely audible), "Why don't you get a second to the motion. Then anybody out front can participate in the discussion; then they should be able to address the entire [board]."

Ms. Norris: "OK, so there is a motion from Kathryn to approve the contract."


Board member David Crawford (Baker County)

Dr. Tepedino: "I'll second the motion."

Ms. Norris: "Any other discussion or comments?"

Dr. Tepedino asks, "Can we approve the contract with the contingency that next year (Ms. Norris cuts him off)

Ms. Norris:  "It's a one year contract."

Dr. Tepedino:  "Next year we just say 'we don't plan on doing that.'"

Ms. Norris:  "Would you be willing to amend it to say that we advise them that we are not going to continue the sponsorship."

Dr. Tepedino:  "Correct."

Ms. Norris (to no one in particular): "Would you accept that change?"

(silence)

Ms. McInnis (seemed to say): "I second it."


Board member Dr. Athena Randolph (Columbia County)

Ms. Norris: "So the motion is now to approve the contract for this year and then to inform them at this point in time if it continues in the same format we're not looking to be a sponsor next year. Again knowing things can change."

Ms. Norris asks the board, "Any more comments and questions about that."

There were no comments.

Ignoring the requirements of what is known as SB 50, Ms. Norris did not avail the public its right to be heard on the "proposition before the board" ignoring a person in the audience with her hand up.

The motion passed unanimously.

Dr. Barrett concluded, "We'll let Fay Bowling know that." Ms. Bowling is the Director of the Blue Gray Army, Inc., the organizers of the Olustee Battle Festival.

Epilogue


Faye Bowling Warren

On July 18, 2018, Faye Bowling Warren, the Executive Director of the Blue Gray Army, Inc., explained the function of the organization. "It's the sponsoring organization for the Olustee Battle Festival, which is an arts and craft festival held downtown, which includes a parade and some other activities for Lake City and our County residents. It is not a celebration at all."

This does not exactly jive with her Facebook comments: "... help cheer on the confederate troops as they drive back the Union invaders from Lake City!."

This is not your everyday "arts and crafts festival."

Columbia County Florida: the legend continues.

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