Grand Lake US Constitution Week says thanks, but no thanks to public money
Any Grand Lakers worried about town funding going to Grand Lake US Constitution Week can breathe a sigh of relief.
Constitution Week organizers informed the town in a letter this week that they won’t be accepting a previously approved $4,000 town grant for the week of events that happens every September in Grand Lake.
The decision to forgo the public funding follows discussions among Grand Lake trustees last month about the group’s nonprofit grant application. Town staff had received some complaints about the week being too political and asked trustees to weigh in.
In approving the grant, trustees requested that Constitution Week organizers allow the town some input regarding the event’s keynote speakers. If the town was going to support the event financially, trustees wanted some level of influence.
Organizers have repeatedly welcomed help in the selection process, and they seemed agreeable to the idea of accepting the town’s advice, though organizers were careful not to concede control over the selection process before trustees voted to approve the grant.
Since that April 12 meeting, however, Constitution Week’s organizers have had a chance to consider the trustees’ decision and will not be accepting the grant money this year.
“We understand that you’ve received a small number of complaints that our event is political,” the letter to the town reads. “While we disagree, we must avoid reinforcing that false perception. Accepting advice from a politically appointed adviser in exchange for funds could increase the perception that Grand Lake US Constitution Week is a political event.”
Instead of accepting the $4,000 nonprofit grant, organizers suggested trustees consider putting it toward the Saturday fireworks that conclude Constitution Week, “an event that is totally controlled by the board of trustees.”
“In this way, the town is not involved in any way with our speakers, and the funds would be used in exactly the same manner as firework funds are used for the 4th of July, New Year’s Eve and Winter Carnival,” the letter continues. “We hope this is a workable solution for you.”
According to the letter, organizers’ decision to forego the grant money is rooted in an effort to avoid the appearance of political influences. As a general policy, they have shied away from inviting anyone currently running for office to speak at Constitution Week, and their refusal of the grant money runs along similar lines.
“This isn’t a political event; it’s an educational event,” said Mike Tompkins, chairman of the board of directors for Grand Lake US Constitution Week. “(As Grand Lake Constitution Week founder Tom Goodfellow) likes to say — and I like it too — we don’t invite politicians to speak, but we invite them to take notes.”
He explained that the Grand Lake US Constitution Week board of directors came to agree that while they appreciate the town’s funding — which can be as much as 10-20% of the week’s budget and has served as a primary source for funding over the years — they had also heard from the many people who support the week and the handful who disagreed before deciding in a close vote to not accept the funds.
Tompkins said the decision, at least for him, boiled down to one question: How do you address the perceived problem of being a political event by appointing a politician as an adviser?
“That’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer to that,” Tompkins said.
He said that he believes it’s far better and much more liberating if Constitution Week can raise these funds without relying on government support, and that also appealed to the board of directors.
Later on, Tompkins noted that he supports “three solutions” for anyone who might be opposed to Constitution Week to respond to the week of events.
The first, which Tompkins described as “the least helpful,” would be writing letters to the newspaper telling everyone how bad the week is and demanding that it gets canceled.
Another one of Tompkins’ ideas calls for individuals to join Constitution Week’s organizers in the selection process to help the group in their mission to foster a diversity of views. While organizers don’t want politicians helping select the speakers, Tompkins said they have no problem with individuals, including Grand Lake trustees, assisting them as private citizens.
His third solution — the one Tompkins characterized as the most helpful — is for people to consider hosting more Constitution Day celebrations, no matter where they are or what shape those ceremonies may take.
“I don’t care if it’s Grand Lake; I don’t care if we have more than one Constitution celebration,” Tompkins said. “It doesn’t have to follow our model; it doesn’t have to be a weeklong event. It doesn’t have to be educational speakers. It could be a musicfest, or fireworks, or slam poetry — whatever people want to do just to take a moment of silence and think about what the Constitution means to you. That’s really our goal, and we want it to spread beyond Grand Lake.”
Grand Lake US Constitution Week runs Sept. 13-18 this year. The anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution is on Sept. 17, and the fireworks are planned for that Saturday. For more about the lineup of events, go to http://www.GrandLakeUSConstitutionWeek.com.
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