A lot has been said over the years about the value of the Okra Strut. It can be argued in print, social media, face to face, but there are two sides to every coin, and both sides are right. There is no value in that debate.
What I will talk about is not whether there is or isn’t a festival, whether it is good for the town, that has never been my concern. What has been my concern is putting on a 2-day festival, spending 300 days out of each year with animosity on Council over the festival making money, losing money, bigger bands, smaller bands, less noise, parking issues, “sorry bookkeeping”, poor budgeting, and adhering to budgets.
Not only does Town staff, police and public works department, spend a good portion of time associated with the Festival, Town Council spends too much time. Since the Festival belongs to the Town, it is Council’s responsibility. My issue has always been, except to those that like to spin the issue into something they can argue with, is the Town does not need to own the Festival. Never should have. Other town festivals are not owned by the town, they only sponsor them. We should sponsor the Okra Strut, not own it. We should set up a 501(c)3 nonprofit, transfer ownership, responsibility of running it and controlling it to this group. Politics are political, running it, etc. is political, because 5 council members can vote to keep it, change it, stop it. The buck stops with Town Council, whether we like it or not, it’s our responsibility. We waived that to some degree for years, and it had its problems. You can’t get the politics out of town business. You can get politics out of the festival by giving it to a nonprofit, or a combination of local nonprofits.
They run it, they decide how to spend the revenue, and what to do with profits. It made money last year; it will this year, and it can as long as Commission sticks to its budget, expenses, spends less if can, make more if can.
The Town would provide site, cleanup, and police services, as a Sponsor. There is a better way. However, just as difficult as it was to clean it up from losing more money year after year, getting changes made to resolve finger pointing, control issues, it is also difficult to break old habits of allowing Women’s Club free space, free electricity, etc. Our agreement states when the Town bought the Festival from the Women’s Club, we would give them 25% of that year’s proceeds, we did. We would allow them first choice of booth location, and exclusive right to sell Fried Okra. We have, each and every year since 1980.
They claim, as does Jake Moore our previous Town Attorney, as he said of 38 years, there was a promise made by a Council some time in history, to give them free space, free everything that could arise. A lot could be said about elected officials making “promises”. But I will stick to even if I “promised” to do so and so, vote yea or nay, I can’t “promise” what a future Council has to do, I can’t even “promise” what I can do, unless I stay in office. Every 2 years there is an election in Irmo. And every two years Council could review or reject last year’s Council “promises”. I have never since being elected in 2005 “promised” free space, free electricity, and no council member since 2015 election has made those “promises”, except for themselves, but not for this Council or any future Council. Can’t be done, can’t be honored.
We got here because a majority of previous Council members didn’t want to deal with this issue, fight with the ladies club, and therefore never dealt with it. I think we should deal with it. I think we should allow all nonprofits to have same benefits (discounts) and arrangements and treat all the same. No favoritism, no special interest.
It can be said they founded it; they did. They also sold it, to the Town. The Town can sell it, keep it, stop it, or give it to a nonprofit or nonprofits. Let’s get the Town out of running festivals and spending our time working together to address real issues in Irmo. And we can eliminate the biggest strife generator on Irmo Town Council for the past years and future years to come.