A debate about whether the Beaufort Black Chamber of Commerce should receive funding from the city of Beaufort -- and about whether it should exist at all -- arose again Tuesday as City Council members tried to decide how to allocate about $165,817 in accommodations tax grants.
The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce and its Visitor and Convention Bureau -- the city's designated marketing organization -- has said it coordinates with the Black Chamber so the two don't overlap in their advertising efforts.
"I just can't believe we have two chambers of commerce, one appealing to the black folks and the other ... appealing to the white folks," said Councilman Gary Fordham, who has said for years he doesn't believe the Black Chamber of Commerce is necessary. "I don't think the regular chamber of commerce is set up for that. It's an equal opportunity chamber."
Beaufort has made great progress on race relations and should continue positive communication, said John Gadson, a former member of the city's Historic District Review Board and active community member who has worked closely with the redevelopment of the city's predominantly black Northwest Quadrant neighborhood.
"The existence of the Black Chamber ... does not indicate a racial divide as much as a matter of how we communicate," Gadson said, standing before council. "I'm a little worried about the discussion tonight ... .With all the progress we've made, we're not on a level playing field yet."
The issue arose after Walter Mack, executive director of Penn Center, said the organization did not receive an grant application in the mail as it has in past years. Penn Center missed the deadline to apply and wanted council to reconsider the allocations, Mack said Tuesday.
The center traditionally asks for about $5,000 to help market its annual heritage festival.
Most council members agreed there was a lack of communication on both sides and began looking for a solution.
Bob Moquin, executive director of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's VCB, then offered to let Penn Center have $2,500 of the nearly $68,400 the Tourism Development Advisory Committee recommended it receive, and asked the Beaufort Black Chamber of Commerce to give the same amount.
But a representative of the Black Chamber, which the committee recommended get $10,000, said the organization didn't want to share its funds.
Councilman Mike Sutton moved that council take $5,000 of the Black Chamber's $10,000 and give it to Penn Center, but the motion failed without a second.
Main Street Beaufort, USA offered to give $1,000 of its recommended $55,942 share to Penn Center. Council later agreed to take $200 from five of the other nine organizations getting funding to give Penn Center $4,500 this year.
Mayor Billy Keyserling asked that the debate be considered at a future work shop.
"We asked all of the participants to work together, and we did see evidence that different groups were working better together," Keyserling said. "The funding for marketing is on the table right now, not whether there should be two chambers of commerce."
But a disgruntled Fordham disagreed and said Keyserling sounded "like a damn politician."
"Every time I turn around we're delaying something," Fordham said. "Let's go ahead and make a damn decision."