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Ludlow: City, Youth Football League Fight Over Festivals

In a heated, contentious, and at times, tearful Ludlow City Council caucus meeting, it was decided that there would be no fireworks festival next year after a dispute between the city and Ludlow Youth Football over funding and scheduling.

The issue: for the last nine years, Ludlow Youth Football has organized and hosted the summer festival as its primary fundraising event to pay for equipment. The City of Ludlow annually contributed $8,000 for the festival, but has since discovered that the practice of allowing a private organization to lead a municipally funded event is not allowed by state law, according to City Attorney Jeff Otis. 

With that discovery, it was decided that the city would lead the festival it pays for and would hire an outside company, Cincy Events, to organize it. The announcement was made earlier this year that the 2016 festival would be held on May 21 which Otis said was "set in stone".

These decisions created two problems for Ludlow Youth Football: it complicated its top fundraiser and infringed on the date of June 3 that LYF had set for the festival it expected to run again.

In the previous meeting, representatives from LYF showed up to raise their issue with council, but the item was not on the meeting’s agenda, and was not permitted for discussion.

At Thursday’s meeting many passionate parents and supporters returned and this time spoke for over an hour. Eventually, Mayor Ken Wynn had heard enough, and decided to put the measure to a vote at the next business meeting to cancel the festival altogether.

"I’m going to put it on the agenda, that we cancel our event,” Wynn said. “You guys go and we’re going to support you guys. I’m just saying that it was the best time for our event, so I think for us, we just cancel it. For all the 4,600 other people in this community, we’ll just cancel it. I’ll put it on the agenda.”

At the beginning of the meeting, it appeared the City was steadfast in its position to fund and proceed with its own festival on May 21, with a rain-out day of June 11. Otis explained to those on hand that it was a signed contract with Cincy Events which locked the date into place. He encouraged the concerned citizens to look at the issue more optimistically, suggesting that there could be two festivals which could translate into two days of major fundraising potential instead of one.

“You guys have two opportunities to raise money, you have two chances. Not just one, but two, and one is completely funded by the city. You won’t have to pay a nickel.You don’t have to contribute anything, all you have to do is show up and try to raise funds for your kids. We’re handing you an opportunity on a silver platter, take advantage of it,” Otis said.

Cindy Powell of LYF focused on the $8,000 line item in the city budget for the festival, saying that Vito's Fireworks received $6,000 while LYF received $2,000. City Administrator Elishia Chamberlain countered that the $2,000 was not an annual gift to the organization, but rather paid for expenses of hosting a festival in the city. This was not taken well. 

“We have always received between $1,100-$1,400 of that money and this will be the first year that we have not gotten that payment back,” Powell said.

Resident Shelby Riddle asked how the city landed on its festival date. Chamberlain explained that the decision was made by the precedence of the annual fireworks event already in place from previous years and also that she was not aware that there would be an LYF Festival in 2016. This seemed to cause even more frustration to those sitting in the pews of the Municipal Building.

“There’s one every year!,” one man shouted.

Others raised worries over canceled youth baseball on the Saturday of the event and again on the rain-out date, the loss the city took during the 150th Sesuicentennial Anniversary Celebration last year, and even took umbrage with vague complaints made by city officials on their personal Facebook pages.

Otis highlighted the fact that there was a lot of time between now and the festival where the two sides could work together, and in the meantime, an audit would have to be underway in order to clarify any financial wrongdoing based on the fact that Ludlow had not been following the rules when it allowed LYF to take control of the festival. Despite the cancelation of the festival outright, in theory, that audit should still be in play.

“There are so many variables and question marks that still need to be answered to see what’s going on with the city’s money and things of that nature,” Otis said.

The walls of the city’s resolve on the issue, though, seemed to weaken significantly when Councilman Josh Boone, who hadn’t spoken throughout, was asked of his opinion.

“While I don’t think it was the intent of the City to anger people—I certainly think having annual events and promoting the City is a very good idea—unfortunately, the reality is that it has to hurt people, and I really question what the long-term future is. I don’t see the benefit of bringing a wedge between the City and with LYF and that’s unfortunately the reality of what’s happened, and I respectively disagree with the City’s position,” he said, to applause. 

A short time later, Wynn declared he would include a vote to cancel the event at the next meeting and the feeling of the room changed. Many who had been so spirited in their fight against city council, quickly softened and encouraged their leaders to follow through on their plans for a second festival, just at a later date. Wynn, though, had his mind made up and ended the meeting confirming his cancelation plans.

Whether LYF can proceed with its festival plan remains to be seen, but the financial assistance it previously received from the city most certainly is out of the question. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for October 8 at 7 p.m., where the cancelation is expected to be voted on.

Story & photo by Bryan Burke, associate editor