The truth be told

Published 9:14 pm Saturday, September 6, 2008

By Staff
The past weeks have certainly been busy with articles in the newspapers discussing the John A. Wilkinson Center in Belhaven. We would like to set the record straight so that the innuendos and false statements can stop.
The Friends of JAW is a 501-C-3 nonprofit organization that is owned by over 500 residents who came together to save the original John A. Wilkinson High School building. Through the efforts of these residents, the Wilkinson Center is up and running (contrary to comments from the Belhaven Town Council) and financially stable. Our financial obligations are being met, and our facility is rented on a regular basis. The board of directors for the center, at the present time, are Chester Smith, chairman; Richard Pike, treasurer; Ellen Allen, secretary; Nancy Jones, Sue Rhem, Jeff Best, Rocky Jacobs, John Britt and Starlon Credle, who handles the rentals of the Wilkinson Center.
A monthly board meeting is held to discuss upcoming events and any pertinent business. Over the past year, we lost a board member to cancer. We have filled that vacancy. The auditorium floor had to be replaced last year, which was very involved and expensive. The facility was closed to the public for several weeks for those repairs. With the exception of these repairs, the facility has been open and very busy. From weddings, receptions, banquets, dinner theater, conferences and even funerals, the Wilkinson Center is adaptable to most any circumstance. We have a fully equipped catering kitchen, a large, raised stage area and independent rooms for smaller gatherings.
In April 2002, Starlon Credle, present board member and one of the original facilitators of the Friends of JAW, approached the Belhaven Town Council at a budget workshop to ask for financial assistance for the Wilkinson Center. The council appropriated $6,084 to the center in 2002, with disbursements of $3,042 in July of that year and December of January following, and each year thereafter. From that time until the present, the Friends of JAW (and the board of directors) had a very harmonious relationship with the Belhaven officials. We have opened our facility and grounds free of charge to churches and civic organizations and the Town of Belhaven when it was requested. Each year during the July 4 celebration, the grounds are donated free of charge for each and every vendor that comes to the Belhaven area. These vendors are charged by the Belhaven Fourth of July Committee to sell their wares, and the committee realizes the revenue, not the Wilkinson Center. The stage for entertainment is set up on our property (free of charge). Each and every year, we strive to help make the July 4 event the best it can be for the Town of Belhaven through the use of our facility and grounds.
During our July 2008 Board of Directors meeting, Steve Carawan and Mac Pigott (from the Belhaven Town Council) arrived to speak with the board. Their question to our board of directors was: “What does the Town of Belhaven get in return for their $6,084?” After listening to the two council members, we quickly learned that the town was expecting the use of our facilities free of charge for a number of dates. We tried to explain to them that this facility is expensive to operate and we have obligations to meet, which is why we charge a fee for the facility. The JAW board meeting for August was scheduled, and the chairman was notified that Mac Pigott would be returning to further discuss the plans that the Town of Belhaven has for our facility. We again explained to Mac Pigott that our policies are stated in our bylaws concerning fees for rentals and how the board of directors is elected. Guinn Leverett, Belhaven’s town manager, contacted the chairman and treasurer and requested their presence in his office. The town manager informed the board members that the Friends of JAW had been put on the agenda of the Belhaven Town Council meeting for the following Monday night to discuss yet again the use of our facility by the town. The JAW chairman replied to the town manager, leaving a message that we could not be present at the meeting. The chairman never got a response from the town manager. He then spoke with the town clerk on that same day, letting the town know that we would not be at that meeting on the following Monday. The chairman never got a response from the town manager. At the regularly scheduled Belhaven Town Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 25, the Belhaven mayor and council began their attack. From that point, the newspapers published false statements and misleading information made by town officials regarding the Friends of JAW. What a sad realization that being bullied by the Town of Belhaven could turn so ugly.
The board of directors for the Friends of JAW is pleased to say that our facility is available for rentals to the public, including the town of Belhaven.
While the negative news release from the Town of Belhaven tends to make us want to fight back, we feel that our facility speaks for itself. It is the only facility in the eastern part of Beaufort County that will accommodate a large crowd for any kind of function, and our reputation speaks for itself. Plans are to host a large function late this fall so that anyone who has not visited the facility may do so.
Thank you to all the supporters of the Wilkinson Center for your trust and hard work.