Natchez leaders take no action on Youth Build dispute

Published 11:09 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2009

NATCHEZ — No formal action was taken by the board of aldermen to settle a dispute between the Youth Build Program and the Natchez Festival of Music.

Both entities are housed in the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center — the festival having been there for years and the program having been there for only a few weeks.

Festival officials were upset to find last week that a fire extinguisher had been sprayed in the auditorium of the building.

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With no actual proof that it was a Youth Build student, the program officials still had all the students clean up the mess.

Festival officials have admitted the auditorium was cleaned well, and they also have said they support the GED and skill-building program for high school dropouts.

But they still want the program out of Margaret Martin.

Charlotte Copeland, festival of music secretary and Margaret Martin chair, requested to the board at its regular meeting Tuesday that another building be found for the program.

She said the Festival of Music has a lease for the city-owned building, $1 a year, and essentially allowing another program in the building without prior knowledge is a violation of the lease.

“The city did not respect the lease at all,” Copeland said. “We respect you. You should respect us.”

Mayor Jake Middleton said he was not aware there was a lease.

“I thought it was sort of a gentleman’s agreement,” he said. “I didn’t know we had a contract with them, but I should have.”

He said he plans to review the contract or lease.

Middleton also said he is going to continue to work with Community Development Director Darlene Jones, who is heading the Youth Build Program, to see if a compromise could be worked out between the two entities.

Alderman Bob Pollard said he would also like to see the program relocated.

Festival board member Jim Sanders suggested the building have security.

“We’re all concerned about the safety of everyone,” he said.

Alderman James “Ricky” Gray said the Youth Build students do not pose a threat.

“We all need to find a way to work together,” he said.

It has been suggested that a wall with a locked door be constructed to barricade the basement of Margaret Martin from the rest of the building.

The basement is the only portion of the building the Youth Build Program is planning on using.