What started as a routine discussion to set dates for King Coal Festival turned into a heated debate between event planners and Williamson Mayor Charlie Hatfield during last week’s Williamson City Council.
Jada Hunter, president of the AIM (Action in Mingo) Group, came before the council requesting that the group be allowed to host the annual festival Sept. 17-20. Hunter said plans for the festival are currently fluid and could change with any new developments from the COVID-19 pandemic.
During her presentation, Hatfield expressed his support for the King Coal Festival, both personally and as mayor, over the years. However, he did express his disappointment that AIM had not been able to work in conjunction with the Tug Valley Area CVB. He said that he had hoped to see if the combined efforts of the two groups could improve the local festival.
The discussion quickly branched out to include other AIM events such as Halloween activities and the Great White Way.
Hunter said she had approached the CVB earlier in the year but those talks did not take place because of stay-at-home orders caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This will be this administration’s final time on King Coal, I really wished we could have gotten the CVB and AIM Group together and I feel bad that we haven’t. The pooling of those two resources could have made a huge difference,” Hatfield said. “I wish we could do more to bring people in. I’m going to express this because I support you and all of your crew. I get a lot of complaints about the lack of participation and attendance.”
Hatfield continued and asked Hunter if there was anything he could do to bring the groups together “even at this late date.”
“If you recall, I was the one that asked you if we could meet with the CVB. It wasn’t so that we could merge but so that we have an understanding as to what dates (events by the two groups were planned),” Hunter said and referred to the CVB’s Tree Lighting Ceremony being held the night before the Great White Way last December. “It was the fact that there were events on that Friday night that really did interfere with our numbers the next day. “The main thing was that we wanted our events to be respected and not encroached upon.”
Tina Turk, another member of AIM echoed Hunter’s response: “That’s the problem we are having they are encroaching on our events. They need to take into consideration that we have been around longer than they have. They need should let us proceed and put theirs on the back burner.”
Councilwoman Sherri Hairston Brown asked who was encroaching on AIM’s events.
“The CVB, which has come up as a recent organization,” Hunter responded. “We were the first ones, under Mayor Carlton, to have an event at Halloween. We had a little event where parents could come and take pictures with their children and we had a costume contest. Then the very next year, the CVB came up with Spookfest. So people chose to go to theirs.”
Hunter said that she offered to move AIM’s event closer to the time of Spookfest to allow both events to happen.
“I understand what you are talking about. It seems like when you all plan something, they plan it on the same exact night,” Brown said. “Theirs is bigger and better and all this kind of stuff. Like you said they are encroaching on your time. I understand what you are saying. I understand who is doing it and why they are doing it. You don’t have to tell me nothing.”
“Exactly,” Hunter responded.
Hatfield said one of the reasons for having a CVB director was to avoid conflicting dates.
“I have never worked so hard to bring all of you together and you know that,” Hatfield said. “There’s a lot of animosity between some folks. I don’t think there’s a conflict of direction. AIM has its events and you should have them but I just think we should all come together.”
“We want to work together but some people want to take over. They don’t want to work together,” Turk interjected. “They want to call it theirs and get all the glory.”
“You brought this up and so I want to clarify our point of view,” Hunter told the mayor. “We made the attempt after the (editorial) was in the Mingo Messenger to bring to bring the two groups together. We have been cooperative and it seems to still not make a difference when it comes to respecting our organization that’s been in operation for 48 years. If they would just not have their events when we have ours there would be no problems.”
In the end, the council decided to wait until the July meeting to set dates for the festival to see if any new developments have happened with the COVID pandemic.