The city of Camden’s idea to have a free concert April 23 to observe the opening of the new Town Green is a great idea, and it will indeed be a festive event that will show off the new facility and its attractions. Unfortunately, planning for the event didn’t go as smoothly as it should have, and local food merchants ended up both hurt and aggrieved over the way things were initially planned. They had a right to be disgruntled.
The situation, as outlined in Associate Editor Martin Cahn’s in-depth story on the front page of today’s Chronicle-Independent, revolved around the fact that local vendors at first appeared to be shut out of offering food, while an out-of-town food vendor, Hudson’s, would set up shop at the green. Camden native Patrick Davis will be the headline act for the affair, and the town contracted with him and his company, Where I’m From LLC, to provide beer and wine; they also gave the firm freedom to choose its own vendors. Versions of how the agreement came to be varied among the participants.
Let us say outright that we don’t think anyone had any ill intentions. But it appears the city could have handled the situation in a better way. At one point, City Manager Kevin Bronson and Wade Luther, the city’s economic development director, said that after issuing the special events permit to Where I’m From, they had no control over which vendors the firm could choose. But the city could easily have built clauses into the contract specifying that local vendors had to be allowed. After all, the Town Green was built and will be supported with tax dollars controlled by the city, and while we join with city officials in hoping it will help spur tourism, its primary benefit will be to local citizens. City officials handing the concert weren’t sensitive enough to that. We think it’s one of those things that just sort of flew over everybody’s head, but it ruffled lots of feathers.
Once it became apparent that a controversy was brewing, Davis and his partner, Travis Maynard, handled the situation gracefully, “un-inviting” Hudson’s and thus opening the way for local vendors to operate. The city also did its part in trying to rectify what had become painful for many. The bottom line is that the city must ensure in the future that local businesses -- whether they’re caterers, retailers or others -- must always be given opportunity to showcase their products at city-sponsored events.