Organizers happy with Jubilee crowd; vendor fees cause dispute

Published 9:31 pm Monday, March 6, 2017

A few thousand people visited Selma from Thursday through Sunday for the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Voting Rights Movement.

“I thought the Jubilee went very well. At event after event, there were good crowds, good participation and good spirit, so I feel really good about it,” said Sen. Hank Sanders, one of the Jubilee founders. “I was really shocked at how many people turned out for the march.”

Despite the crowds and well-attended events, this year’s Jubilee was much different than year’s past.

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The city did not provide in-kind services, and the street festival, the Jubilee’s largest event outside of Sunday’s march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, was relocated to the other side of the Alabama River.

Organizers moved the festival because they refused to pay a reduced fee of $17,000 to the city for police, fire and cleanup services.  Instead of vendors lining Water Avenue like in year’s past, they were lined up in front of buildings on the Selmont side of the bridge, along with two different stages for musical acts.

“It worked, and that was just a few days’ notice,” Sanders said.

He said organizers have not decided on whether or not the location will become permanent for the festival.

“We haven’t given any thought to anything,” Sanders said. “There will be time enough in the future to start thinking about what we do in the future. Right now, we’re just going to tie up some loose ends, catch our breath and go from there.”

While the city did not provide security or cleanup, there were still issues that had to be addressed. Selma Police Chief Spencer Collier said dozens of vendors did not pay vendor fees, and some of them even had forged business licenses.

“What we did discover was multiple forged business licenses, so we’ve opened a criminal case on that. When I say multiple, it’s probably well over 50,” Collier said. “Someone bought one and ran off hundreds of copies and told everybody to put them up.”

Collier said organizers refused to let the city tax assessor and police officers into the festival to check for vendor licenses.

“We finally reached an agreement where if we counted the vendors Mrs. [Faya Rose Toure] Sanders said she would personally cover the fee,” Collier said. “Well, we did that, and when we went to recover the fee, she wouldn’t even see us.”

Collier said her attorneys challenged the city’s ordinance.

“Lawyers representing the Bridge Crossing Jubilee met with the police chief and others for several hours and came to the conclusion that there was no legal authority for the city to collect vendor licenses over there,” Sen. Sanders said. “They went back and looked at the ordinance, and the ordinance doesn’t say police jurisdiction. It just says the city of Selma, and the law is very clear that you have to pass something in police jurisdiction.”

Selma Mayor Darrio Melton said that is not correct.

Police also had to respond to a massive brawl that broke out in the Selma High School gym before a charity celebrity basketball game that was sponsored by BOSS Youth League Saturday.

While the game was listed as one of the Jubilee’s many events, Sanders said the Jubilee had nothing to do with the event itself.

“Many organizations hold different events, and they simply want to list them so they know where they are. That was not an event that the official Jubilee itself was over,” Sanders said.

Melton said these were issues the city was trying to prevent by charging organizers.

“These were the problems the city attempted to avoid by asking event organizers to take financial responsibility for the services that the city would need to provide for a safe and secure event,” Melton said Monday in a statement to the Times-Journal. “We will take steps to guarantee private events are safe and efficient in the future.”

A video of the fight shows two or three different fights going on in the stands before the game started. Monday morning the site where the street festival was held was covered in trash. Several pictures went around social media complaining about it. Around 9 a.m. a group started cleaning up.

“By the time people left last night, you couldn’t clean up last night, so we had to clean up this morning,” Sanders said.  “It has gone very well. I came back after I went to Montgomery on the slow ride, and I was very pleased that it looked so decent out there.”

Multiple phone calls to Faya Rose Toure Sanders and Sam Walker, one of the organizers, seeking comment were not returned.