By Tiffeny Owens
The Cullman Times
A leading member of the Hanceville Business Council said the group feels a bit abandoned by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s decision to withdraw its organizational support and take on a more passive role as a promoter of events.
Chamber president Leah Bolin, past chamber board chairman Charles NeSmith and chamber tourism director Cecelia Smith addressed concerns about its support of Hanceville businesses and events at Monday night’s council meeting. Former Hanceville city councilwoman JoAnn Walls, a Hanceville Business Council member, said the group feels like it was “left dangling” after it lost its tax exempt status through the chamber and a chamber representative to help manage publicity for annual events like last month’s Mud Creek Arts and Crafts Festival.
“We used to be under the umbrella of the chamber and had a representative that would help us with different projects,” Walls said. “But since they’ve pulled away, we’ve lost the 501(c)(3) status which means businesses that donate to us to sponsor events can’t get a tax deduction. We had to ask the local Civitans to help us with their tax exempt status so we could put on the Mud Creek Festival this year. We just felt like we were caught flat-footed.”
NeSmith said the situation was quite the opposite.
“We’re not abandoning the Hanceville Business Council; we want to make it better,” he said. “We’ve wanted to shrink the umbrella. We can’t run all these smaller organizations. When the city of Cullman’s downtown merchants decided they wanted to start their own association, that was called a rebellion. It was not a rebellion. We thought it was great move for those downtown business owners. Likewise we would encourage the Hanceville Business Council to run their own organization with us at the chamber doing the promotion for them.”
Bolin and Smith said the chamber promoted Mud Creek as much as any other local festival, and probably moreso, featuring ads in its newsletter, posting it on its event calendar online and passing out flyers. Walls countered that the publicity did not seem to be the same as in past years with the chamber’s help. She said the chamber used to organize membership drives with a portion of the proceeds going to a publicity fund for Hanceville events which was managed by its chamber representative.
“We’re only a five-person staff. We can’t run your event for you, but we can facilitate and promote it,” Bolin said. “We want to do a better job communicating what we can do to help. I live here in Hanceville, and we all want to do whatever we can for the businesses here to be a success.”
Walls said the business council has around 10 active businesses, but the group is currently trying to reorganize and add members. She said some members of the Hanceville business council are not chamber members while others are. One of the business council’s main priorities is bringing more businesses to vacant downtown storefronts, Walls said. It also plans to fill out and submit the lengthy paperwork to get its own tax exempt status.
“Leah and I get along really well,” Walls said. “I just wanted to explain our situation. We’re committed to working together in the future.”
* Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.