Broward News

Deerfield City Manager: Don't Blame Mango Meltdown on Us

Since last week, Deerfield Beach city officials have been trying to debunk a storyline being advanced by embattled Commissioner Sylvia Poiter, who insists that the city is to blame for the failure of the June 19-20 Mango Festival, not her nor her fellow festival organizers.

But every time the city has tried to tell its side, in public meetings, as well as in private pow-wows, the officials have literally been shouted down by Poitier. I recently got hold of city manager Burgess Hanson, and with Poitier safely out of shouting distance, Hanson told me what happened that disastrous weekend.

First, some context is necessary. This past year, the Deerfield Beach Commission decided it would treat each of its three major festivals equally, giving $25,000 each to the Founder's Day event, the Brazilian Festival and the Mango Festival.

The Mango, however, is the only one of those events that's been a headache to the commission. There's questions about whether its organizers do an honest accounting of their gate revenue, and those organizers didn't help their cause when they dragged their feet on the city's demand for an audit. Of the three events, Mango is the only one that charges an entry fee, which makes it the one that poses the greatest risk for fraud.

To minimize those risks, the city asked that the Mango put down a $25,000 deposit -- the same amount that it had earmarked in the budget for the festival. This way, the city could be sure that it could recover the costs of various services (e.g. trash, fire, police and clean-up by parks department staff) it would perform for the festival.

On the Tuesday before the festival, organizers showed up to the commission meeting with $17,000 cash -- and by commissioners' reckoning, that would be close enough, so long as organizers paid the remaining $8,000 before the festival opened Sunday, its second day. Organizers agreed to the deal, figuring that they would easily make $8,000 at the admission gate on Saturday.

To be sure, that extension was a gesture of faith by the city in the festival organizers.

Of course, that faith was betrayed by poor planning and financial foul-ups. Organizers couldn't pay for the sound and the stage on day one, when none of the promised musical acts performed. Nor could organizers pay for stage and sound on day two, which was canceled before it began.

In public remarks, Poitier has insisted that the city canceled the festival on Sunday morning, following a heated argument between parks director George Edmunds, who was demanding the $8,000, and promoter Norris Wiggins.

The city manager says otherwise: "We didn't have the authority to pull the plug," Hanson told Juice. He admits that the city tried to get the $8,000, but that shouldn't have come as a surprise. After all, the organizers of the festival had agreed to those terms.

Says Hanson: "Saturday evening, because of all that was happening with the sound and staging companies, I said to George Edmunds, 'Make sure that Mr. Wiggins is aware that he will also have to pay the $8,000 to the city."

Edmunds did so that Sunday morning, but according to the account he gave to Hanson, the conversation with Wiggins was "very cordial." It had nothing to do with the cancellation. "They decided to cut (the festival) because Mr. Wiggins realized that there were other services they couldn't perform."

Of course, that account, which jibes with what we know from speaking to Wiggins himself, looks bad politically for Poitier, which may explain why her memory of events is much different.

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Thomas Francis