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Wildwood’s annual celebration gets new leadership just months before event

By: Mary Shapiro


The city’s annual Celebrate Wildwood festival has new leadership as of June 12.

Some on Wildwood’s City Council are concerned about how well members of a newly appointed Wildwood Celebration Commission will work with long-time volunteers who have managed the Founders Day/Celebrate Wildwood event for many years.

The event is scheduled for Aug. 25-26 and costs are anticipated at about $100,000. On June 12, the council approved the appointments of residents Libby Wilson [Ward 1], Vicki Helfrey [Ward 2], Pat Bishop [Ward 3], Eric Aufricht [Ward 4], Jim Sanders [Ward 5], Cory Lawson [Ward 6], Patricia Ward [Ward 7] and Susan Siebert [Ward 8], as well as Councilmember Jeff Levitt [Ward 7] and Gary Crews, the city’s superintendent of parks and recreation, to the celebration commission. While the appointments are new, the mayor says the commission is not.

Mayor Jim Bowlin said city legislation, first adopted in 1997, formed the commission, which is charged with organizing and conducting the city celebration, including preparing and submitting a budget for the event to the council. All expenses pertaining to the event are under the supervision of the commission, subject to the budget approved by the council and approval of expenditures by Joe Vujnich, director of planning and parks, and oversight by City Administrator Ryan Thomas.

In May, the council agreed to select celebration commissioners and decided to include the city’s annual Art Festival within its jurisdiction.

This is the first involvement with the city at this level for many of the appointees, which has caused concern by some councilmembers.

Councilmember Tammy Shea [Ward 3] unsuccessfully asked that the new commissioners simply observe the work of volunteer event organizers this year, rather than taking over management only two months before the event takes place. But Councilmember Larry McGowen [Ward 1] urged the new commissioners and long-time volunteers to endeavor to work together on this year’s event.

“I suggest the commission take effect immediately, but get advice and help from those who’ve been involved for a long time,” McGowen said.

Bowlin added that it is important that the commission meet as soon as possible to devise a budget and present it to the council for approval no later than early July. Shea noted that the council already had approved a budget that volunteers submitted and the city staff had reviewed.

“Events have been scheduled, commitments have been made, artists have been juried and an itinerary established,” Shea said. “The transition ought not to disrupt plans already made at this stage. To do that would be kind of disrespectful to people who’ve put so much time in. Turning the clock back on the budget is unnecessary.”

Bowlin said it will be up to the new commission on how to proceed on line items in the budget, but insisted the event “is to be about all Wildwood citizens.”

“While we greatly appreciate the work of the volunteers [who might still participate], we must follow our own rules,” Bowlin said, referring to the 1997 legislation establishing the commission.

During public comment that evening, resident John Gragnani, who is one of the city’s founders, said he had been told to stop passing out event flyers at a recent city concert. He added that some meetings of volunteers also had been cancelled. However, Bowlin insisted that distributing the flyer was delayed “to avoid spending taxpayer dollars on something that could prove to be worthless, depending on how the commission proceeds.”

“A meeting of volunteers was initially cancelled, but ultimately held, due to the typical issues associated with any transition,” Bowlin added. “Any inconvenience of the transition is a small price to pay to make sure that we’re following our own rules for a $100,000 event dedicated to all Wildwood residents and approving of line item budgets before taxpayer dollars are spent.”

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