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Olustee Battle Festival: Funding Battle Continued at Florida Gateway College – Next Action Unclear

Confederate soldiers with headline: Funding Battle Continued at FGC

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On February 12, 2019, the Florida Gateway College Board met in Baker County for its monthly meeting. Neither the Olustee Battle Reenactment nor the Battle Festival was anywhere on the College's agenda. Columbia County residents Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Jim Tatum brought the item up, which inspired FGC Board member and Florid Representative Chuck Brannon to throw up his arms in exasperation and tell the Board, "I'm not in agreement to what I am hearing today. And I am not going to just sit here and not say anything."

After a warm welcome to the Baker County School District by Superintendent Sherrie Raulerson, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson came to the microphone and told the FGC Board that she did not believe the whole Olustee Battle story was being told.

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson addressed the FGC boardHer prepared statement said the following: "It's important to tell the entire battle story, not just the ones that feel good. Many have argued that reenactments of defeats are hardly ever given the status of festivals with public money spent contributing to tourism, and that in itself should be ended. I’m not sure what kind of person really wants to see the actual depiction of hundreds of brutalized people on a big, wide, forested and grassy area; I certainly do not and will not participate as a spectator. Nothing good can come from pretending to play out a lost war, only pain and suffering on all sides.

Ms. Malwitz said she wasn't opposed to the Battle Reenactment, just the way it was portrayed.

Mr. Jim Tatum echoed Ms. Malwitz-Jipson's sentiments and mentioned his  letter to the editor to the County's mainstream media.

As the public comment wrapped up it was clear that Representative Brannan was doing a slow boil.

FGC Board member Chuck Brannan and Renae Allen and David Crawford
FGC Board member Chuck Brannon as Board members Renae Allen and David Crawford listen.

Representative Brannan

Representative Brannan, throwing his hands up in exasperation told the Board, "I'm not in agreement to what I am hearing today. And I am not going to just sit here and not say anything."

Highlights from Mr. Brannan's comments:

The festival has a huge impact on the communities. An $8 million impact. It has been a good thing for these communities. I know that as a police officer, all the years that I was one of the folks that was sort of in charge of the reenactment side. There maybe 12 or 15,000 people there on Sunday."

It's always been an educational event - I felt like. We can split hairs and parse it all out about looking at a 2019 event through the prism of 1864 and that's impossible to do. Atrocities were committed. That's part of the history. That's what we need to know about.

We as a country are the country we are because of our history and I don't know that as an educational facility that pulling our funding from a historical event promotes education. I've always been a student of history. A history buff - you might say. All of these years at the battle the atrocities have not been overlooked....

There are bad things in America's history. We cannot overlook these things. I just think it sets a bad tone for the college to withdraw funding from the biggest event in the County... I just don't see where we are going.

My parliamentary procedure days tell me that you can't reconsider a motion unless you are on the prevailing side. I was not here to cast a vote that day, so obviously I was not on the prevailing side. But if there is a member here who was on the prevailing side, I would prevail upon you and ask that you reconsider this motion and allow us to have another vote.

If the College Board went by Robert's Rules, a motion for reconsideration can only be brought up during the session when the vote took place.

Your reporter has asked President Barrett what rules the college goes by at its board meetings. It does not appear that the Board has adopted any rules of procedure.

Board Member Renae Allen of Union County Weighed In
"A wonderful opportunity"

Renae Allen FGC Board memberMs. Allen told the Board: "I am a 34 year educator. To me, from the perspective of an educator, I have to say that I think a reenactment, whether it shows every aspect that every person wants it to show, that's a pretty difficult thing to do. The general portrayal of a battle showing the Confederate and Union side is the final result of what occurred is a wonderful opportunity for teachers to be able to bring their students and see it, and then they can go back to the classroom and discuss it... Allen     I think that our college, because we are an educational institution, in some way needs to support, provide continued support, to this reenactment and Festival."

Board Chair Norris: She walked it back

Board Chair Norris addressed Ms. Allen: "Let me make a clarifying statement because you were not here... I am hearing you talk about us being involved in the educational aspect, which I personally support wholeheartedly. I made a comment and I wish I had not said, 'I am not a fan of it.' I'm not a big fan of the festivals... but the battle reenactment is a historical event, with historical opportunities to support..."

Ms. Norris kept talking and then explained what happened during the January 8 meeting, "Not to discontinue forever; not to discontinue supporting the festival; it was about how we would do it."

This is sort of what happened on January 8th.

Mr. Brannan asked, "But wasn't the vote to pull the funding for 2020 and beyond?"

Chuck Brannan wanted explanations
Mr. Brannan wanted explanations as Ms. Allen listened.

Ms. Norris replied, "The vote was to, if it came back in the same way, to let them know we would not be doing that."

Mr. Brannan asked, "Why would the college miss an opportunity to promote the college with a festival that's held in conjunction with a parade that thousands of people are going to come by and see Florida Gateway College's booth?"

Ms. Allen brought up Ms. Malwitz-Jipson's committee idea, "I do think the idea that was just mentioned about a committee made up of a variety of different individuals to address how the college might better involve itself in the educational opportunities. That is a good idea."

Gilchrist County Board Member Lindsey Lander

Lindsey Lander FGC Board memberBoard Member Lindsey Lander, an attorney, opined: "I think the perception has taken over... it's been perceived, rightly or wrongly, as the board's position on the festival itself. If I had been here, I would have voted in favor of continuing -- of giving the $500 to the booth; continuing supporting the festival; continuing supporting all of it. My opinion is that it is a good thing for this community; it's a good thing for the college to be involved in it... I think that people are taking a negative position towards the festival itself should look at the most important people who show up every year, which is the 54th Massachusetts..."


Ms. Norris asked if anyone wanted to reconsider it at another meeting.

Mr. Brannon:  "I will do that.... for a future meeting."

Ms. Norris: "Dr. Tepedino said he'd do that for you."

Mr. Brannon continued, "But I don't think we need to. Maybe we just need to set it for a new agenda item. It would be what the college's support for the Olustee Festival would be in the future. And it could be whatever we choose to be."

Dr. Tepedino Suggests the Team Approach

Dr. Tepedino:  So would you be open to the idea of me saying six months down the road we look into maybe some of the educational resources around us? Maybe bringing some of the excellent fonts of information about what happened... Something that promotes the college in a positive light... something that we all decide as a team... because this polarizing way that the media has kind of played this whole thing out is totally misconstrued."

Mr. Brannon:  "I'm open to that, but I still feel we need to address what the college -- if, or not -- that we are going to support (Norris cuts him off)

Ms. Norris:  "How about a workshop?"

Mr. Brannon finished his sentence, "The local voters."

Ms. Norris continued, "What about a workshop where we as a board discuss opportunities and get some feedback from Dr. Barrett about ways to support... What if we have a workshop or we asked Dr. Barrett to come back to us with some suggestions after -unintelligible-... the question is are we just going to commit to approving --  hey -- we're just going to keep spending the money on the booth in perpetuity for $500. We have to approve that every year, anyway -- I guess is the question that I'm asking. So, I'll ask you what you would like us to do."

Representative Brannan: He wants discussion

Mr. Brannan responded: "I'm open to the discussion. I don't want the community to feel like -- and I think that's the way they feel right now, because my calls were probably 10 to zero against what the college has done. And they saw it as a blow against what the community is trying to support. I don't want the college to be at odds with the community's festival. So whatever way we can best support that, then I am -- it doesn't have to be a booth -- it could be whatever this board decides. But as long as we have a discussion."

Columbia County's Dr. Miguel Tepedino: Walking It Back

Suzanne Norris listens to Dr. Tepedino
Ms. Norris listens to Dr. Tepedino. Pres. Barrett is in the background.

Dr. Tepedino:  We'll task the president, who works for us, and we will say to him, "Hey, we've got all these great historic resources, let's do something that augments -- benefits the community; enhances the experience; inspires people to become great lawyers down the road, who have a history background, who come back to the community and that's what we do. And we meet back, taking in all this information, glean it, hone it and make it something even more over-the-top awesome, so that we could contribute to the festival in a way that puts everything in a positive light; helps out the community; and inspires the young and doesn't just necessarily blindly give $500...:

Baker County Board Member David Crawford
Weighs In and Walks it Back

 David Crawford FGC Board memberMr. Crawford:  "I agree wholeheartedly with where we are ending up and taking a more careful look, especially with regard to involvement in ways that are probably appropriate for an educational institution. Fortunately, I am not a part of the media in Columbia County. I don't understand that part of the conversation."

After commenting that what he really did at the last meeting was vote for a pause in the action, Mr. Crawford continued that he was in favor of having a workshop and to have a committee with people that would be able to inform us educationally."

The Next Steps are Up In the Air

Chair person Norris:  "... Chuck, if you would like to have it on the next agenda, feel free to call and we can put it on. Otherwise, I think that what I am hearing is that we would like for either a workshop or to give Dr. Barrett some time to come back to us -- time to come back to us -- yes -- with some ideas."

President Barrett interjected, "Some recommendations."

Ms. Norris continued:  Some recommendations, and again, how he wants to do that -- I personally would leave that up to him on who he wants to gather together in terms of community discourse on it and then come back to us with ways that you know we can all feel like we have discharged that obligation and done it in a way that supports the community; supports the historical aspect; and you know considers all facets of how our college should be appropriately involved in this event..."

Chairperson Norris
She does not want to be judged by those not in attendance

"I am never intimidated or afraid to pull something off the consent agenda to have it discussed. ... None of us gets paid.... We're here because we believe in the mission of this college and we are not afraid to address things that are uncomfortable or difficult or could be perceived in the light by those who were not in attendance at the meeting in ways that might make us look -- misrepresent what we said or did."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On February 19, 2019, a reader from Tampa wrote:

They all lost their balls.

They look like they are running with their tails tucked between their legs. I guess they're afraid they're going to lose business. Ha! where else are the Lake Cityites going to go? Certainly not Gainesville. That's too far for them.

They are now promoting everything they were against just a few weeks ago.

I agree that folks don't celebrate lost battles and human atrocities. It shows that the people who support this "battle" have a real lack of compassion and empathy. They are no better than the skin heads or the KKK.

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