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Celebration returns to spotlight

Posted Thursday, November 29, 2007, at 8:48 AM

The departure of Ron Thomas as CEO of The Celebration refocuses attention on the annual Tennesee Walking Horse show that, like it or not, partially defines, unites and splits Shelbyville -- all at the same time.

Why Thomas was dismissed isn't clear yet.

But this marks a good time to suggest that more openness, in general, from the "non-profit" organization is necessary. I'm not talking about the Thomas issue in particular -- let's assume more will eventually be disclosed -- but The Celebration's operations in general.

The Celebration as an organization was formed to, more or less, run the "horse show" to serve Shelbyville and Bedford County. Sometimes I feel like those words "to serve" have been forgotten.

A few years ago, one of the callers to the T-G's old "Who Said That" line suggested that The Celebration should publish a yearly financial statement in the Times-Gazette. That comment, which I agreed with, brought on a vehement complaint from at least one member of The Celebration's board of directors. Why?

The people deserve nothing less than full disclosure from an organization which is supposed to belong to the community and serve in its best interests.

As a side note, some well-meaning folks get upset if anyone voices even the smallest amount of displeasure about the Celebration as an event. I don't have a problem with the event OR the complaints. Last I heard, we live in a free country where anyone can voice an opinion. Valid opinions will rise to the top, while unfounded ones will usually fall by the wayside.

Heavy traffic, long lines and an increase in flies late each summer are a fact of life, like it or not. I accept and actually enjoy showtime, but fully respect those who think otherwise. And people do have the right to ask questions and comment on an industry that, in general, has generated much controversy in the past few years. If problems do exist, they won't be solved by keeping people quiet, but rather by open discussion.

The Celebration is an important institution in Bedford County, and definitely an economic powerhouse. But a well-rounded community and economy shoudn't be built around an event based on, largely, how high horses raise their feet. Our city's future progress depends on growth of all types, not just on the rise and/or fall of the "horse show."

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All the Celebration has done lately in the past few years is generate bad publicity for Shelbyville and Bedford County and we already have enough of that with other things going on (murders, etc). People say that the horse show is essential for the economical existence of Shelbyville and Bedford County but lately it has just covered us with a dark cloud of suspicion and negativity.

It saddens me a bit knowing that any of my tax dollars go to it or anything that benefits the horse show. Also, it makes me wonder how many illegal immigrants the whole horse show business employs which creates another problem.

Is our reputation worth sullying just for a few individuals to make a lot of money off of breeding million dollar horses and having bragging rights to who has the best horse? I know the town makes money off the event and the industry being here but does that mean we need to roll over and give them everything they want with no strings attached? I agree with David that the industry needs to have open communication with the city and county about all aspects of its business because we are the ones dealing with its problems whether it is bad press or the typical complaints of August such as traffic and flies.

-- Posted by jaxspike on Thu, Nov 29, 2007, at 10:35 AM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.