JOPLIN, Mo. —
Travis Tritt on Friday canceled his appearance Sunday in Joplin at a 9/11 concert, citing public controversy over how the concert was being funded.
Patrick Tuttle, Joplin’s Convention and Visitors Bureau director, announced Thursday that Tritt would headline a concert Sunday at Landreth Park and sing the national anthem at a ceremony Sunday morning in honor of the National 9/11 Flag in connection with the terrorist attacks in 2001. Joplin is the last disaster-stricken city to receive the flag before it goes to a New York museum commemorating 9/11.
City Manager Mark Rohr had told the City Council on Tuesday that money had been provided by the Community Foundation of Southwest Missouri from a tornado relief fund to cover costs of the concert and that there would be opportunities for people to donate. Money collected from the concert would be returned to the fund to replace the money used for the concert expenses. He said the foundation was to provide up to $60,000.
Tuttle told the Globe on Thursday that expenses included pay for the performers, the travel of the performers, and sound and lighting services.
Rohr told the council that ending the national tour of the 9/11 flag in Joplin on the 10th anniversary of the attack “gives us an incredible opportunity” to call national attention to Joplin’s tornado disaster.
Louise Knauer, senior vice president for communications for the Community Foundation, on Friday said Rohr asked the foundation’s board to make the city a loan from the Joplin Recovery Fund to pay the costs of the concert.
“It was supposed to be a recoverable loan,” she said. “The city had an urgent timetable to raise the funds to secure this national artist” for the 9/11 concert.
“They were looking for upfront costs,” she said, “with the intent the money would be repaid in a week’s time.”
She said the fund has taken in more than $1.3 million in donations and a board had just completed the first round of expenditures, grants of about $300,000 to nonprofit organizations who had applied for money to provide services to tornado victims. She said the grant recipients and amounts are to be announced next week.
Rohr’s request was considered separately from the grant requests, Knauer said.
There is another fund, the Joplin Tornado First Response Fund, that was established by the city to take donations for projects or services the city wants to fund.
“The city has the authority to make distributions from its own fund,” she said, but did not take the concert money from it because administrators are still working on procedures for granting the money and auditing the fund.
Tuttle on Thursday said that corporate sponsorships were involved. “There are sponsors being sought to offset the costs, but it (the money from the Community Foundation) is there to work with if we need it,” Tuttle told the Globe.
After the story was published in Friday editions, public comments, many criticizing the use of the tornado fund as seed money for a concert, appeared on the city’s Facebook page and Tritt’s Facebook fan page.
Julia Skidmore and Mark Kinsley were identified to the council on Tuesday night as the Joplin residents promoting the concert. Skidmore said Friday she was trying to help the community raise money and had sought sponsorships herself to pay the costs, but she was reluctant to make a public statement.
Kinsley had said Tuesday they wanted to honor the 9/11 flag, help bring Joplin back into the national spotlight, and boost morale by offering a concert with free admission.
Rohr on Thursday and Friday did not return telephone calls seeking comment. He also did not respond to an email sent by the Globe on Thursday asking him: “Why is the $60,000 allocation from the Community Foundation fund for the Sunday concert an appropriate use of that money?”
Knauer said Friday the foundation board that agreed to the loan “knew it was for the Sept. 11 event and there was this opportunity for a national concert. It (the request) wasn’t specific about who the artist was or the specific upfront costs.”
She said the loan was a legal dispersal and that the board “was within its rights to make a grant or loan to the city because it’s a nonprofit entity. It’s not a 501(c)3, but it’s got that same nonprofit status,” required by the fund’s benevolent purposes and tax laws.
Tritt, in a statement he issued on his Facebook fan page and in a news release, said he had concerns about the appropriateness of the arrangement as he understood it.
Mayor Mike Woolston said it was unfortunate that Tritt backed out. The mayor said Tritt was misinformed about how the funding developed.
The mayor said a proposal was submitted to the foundation on Tuesday to provide seed money.
Woolston said it was his understanding donors or sponsors could not be solicited until the performers could be announced, and the performers could not be booked until the production costs could be guaranteed.
He said that sponsorships for the costs had been secured on Friday and that donations were to be raised through text messaging.
Asked if the purpose was appropriate, the mayor said the loan “would not have been granted had the purpose not been within their guidelines.”
He said it was expected that sponsorships and donations would have generated more money for the tornado relief fund in addition to repayment of the loan.
“Every decision we make is from the perspective of what’s in the best interest of our citizens,” Woolston said.