The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration received permission from Shelbyville's city council to display banners to promote the annual event, but no city funds will be going toward the effort.
(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely)
Two weeks ago, Harold Segroves asked the city for financial help to purchase 50 banners to raise awareness in the community of the importance of the annual walking horse show to the local economy and to welcome visitors.
The issue was tabled at last week's city council meeting after members said they wanted more time to discuss the matter.
The council quickly approved the hanging of the banners on utility poles around the city, but when the topic moved to their design, a 25-minute debate ensued, with Celebration CEO Dr. Doyle Meadows saying he wondered how Shelbyville and what he called its main industry could have grown so far apart about what has defined the city for nearly three quarters of a century.
Segroves told the council that what he presented two weeks ago was not the final design, saying that the letters would be larger.
However, it wasn't the size of the message but the content that was the topic of discussion.
Council member Jean Pruitt said that the council felt that the message should apply to "more than just the Celebration" but to welcome all visitors to Shelbyville.
Meadows told the council he had met in April with individuals who own stables and barns in the community and are heavily involved in the walking horse industry.
"Part of this was a recruitment for corporate sponsorships, and we were absolutely hammered that this community is doing nothing to support the Celebration or industry," he said. "We've got to work on this.
"That's the way they feel," Meadows said of the people in the horse industry. "The city is not helping."
He said he got together with Walt Wood of the Chamber, county mayor Eugene Ray and city mayor Wallace Cartwright about promoting the event.
"This is the Celebration, it is part of this city," Meadows said, adding that they didn't consider any other event like the Fun Show, mule show or antique car show when planning the banners.
Meadows said that the Chamber has identified 98 signs around the city that could be changed to welcome visitors to the Celebration.
"These banners were not meant to be inclusive or exclusive ... this all started because the Celebration needed help," Meadows said to the council. "And it looks to me like the Celebration started waving their own banner, preaching to their own choir, instead of you doing the things that you needed to do to support this large activity."
Meadows said that he wished the council had joined the Celebration to see "what can we do," adding that he knows that Shelbyville is having financial problems, but also pointing out that "we need everyone in this community supporting the Celebration."
He continued to say that the horse industry "is so significant to this community," noting it's not just the $40 million that is spent during the two weeks of August, but that the biggest weekends they have in the horse business are occurring right now in the Middle Tennessee towns of Dickson, Lewisburg and Pulaski.
"But where are the people staying? Right here," Meadows said. "The city is so significant to this, and we need your help, we need your support, we need all those things that you can do. It's such a part of our heritage."
Council member Jo Ann Holland said she was a Celebration ambassador and she was trying to get businesses to help promote the event.
Councilman Sam Meek also said the council supported the Celebration, but wanted to put something on the banners that said something to the effect of "welcome to Shelbyville." That did not get any feedback from Segroves.
Member Kay Rose said the city had become complacent, since the event "had become so successful, we took it for granted."
Segroves said there had been a "disconnect" between the city and the Celebration, and said he understood that the council didn't want to be seen favoring one event or industry over another. But he said they were talking about banners that were to go up for just two weeks -- not year round.
He repeated that he was representing the Celebration and the horse industry when talking about the banners and was not thinking about how to welcome the visitors to the city. "I mean, I don't know who the visitors to the city of Shelbyville are, other than the Somalis," in an apparent reference to the documentary aired on PBS in May.
"I almost can't believe that we're (the city) not the Celebration for those 10 days," he said. "And if we're not, then Shelbyville has a much bigger problem." He thought it was going to be a low-key promotion, along with 300 ribbons which were paid for by the Celebration.
It was to not only let the visitors know they were welcome, but also the people in the horse industry who work and live here, he said.
Segroves said if it has gotten to this point that a special called meeting was being held just to simply approve the banners, "then we've got some serious talking we need to do."
Meadows will also be writing columns for the Times-Gazette to address issues related to the Celebration, "and we're going to do a far better job in educating the people that live here on just what the Celebration is," Segroves said. "Because over the years, I feel like we've forgotten."
"Back in 1939, it's what we did to put Shelbyville on the map, and it grew into an industry," he said. "It wasn't meant to be, it just happened." He said that the event grew so large "that we quit knowing what to do with it."
Segroves hoped that "we have a new conversation."
Pruitt pointed out that many of the area's civic groups depend on the annual event for their fund raising.
Councilman Thomas Landers asked what would be wrong with putting the names of the industries on the banners that were sponsoring the event, which he said would show that more people were involved in welcoming visitors.
Cartwright pointed out that the banners were to be used year after year. Segroves said the idea was to promote the Celebration, and that since the idea was published in the T-G, he's had calls from people wanting to donate toward the effort.
"This isn't about the money, we don't have to have any money from the city, but we would like your support." Segroves said.
Councilman Jamie Williams said that the banners should mention the city so that visitors could get the sense that Shelbyville was welcoming them.
But Segroves said that the banners needed to be about the Celebration, "if it can't be about the Celebration, then I don't want to put any banners up." He then added than they could set down and within 15 minutes, they could rework what the banners said, "and then we'll be fine."
Landers said he agreed with everything Segroves said, "but we have people that are calling us, not wanting to give you money." Segroves replied it "would tickle me to death for the city not to give us any money, just approve our banners."
"We just had to raise property taxes because the city was spending money we hadn't budgeted," Pruitt said.
"Why do we care what it say as long as it welcomes people to Shelbyville and the Celebration?" Rose asked. But Landers said to Segroves, "Don't throw the city under the bus because the county hasn't even discussed this yet, OK, and you said they had already approved it, so it's not just us."
Then the discussion ended and city attorney Ginger Shofner said that an amendment should be made to the motion to adopt the design as to what they wanted on the banners. Rose moved that the council leave it to the discretion of the Celebration what the wording would be, but that was already stated in the motion.
Shofner said that she understood that the council wanted Shelbyville mentioned on the banners and wanted them to clarify that for the record.
But when the vote came to the council to expend funds for the banners, no one moved to approve it, so the matter died.
Holland said she felt bad about not putting money toward it, and Segroves said that he understood the financial situation the city was in, and said he would make the change to include Shelbyville in the wording.