Unexpected changes come for city 150th celebration committee

Nathan Baker • Dec 13, 2018 at 8:17 AM

Changes announced this week by Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock to the direction and plans of the commission tasked with celebrating the city’s 150th anniversary took some of the group’s own members by surprise.

In an email early Wednesday morning from Brock, who was elected mayor last week by the City Commission seated in November’s election, she informed Sesquicentennial Commission members that the new city commissioners want to be more engaged in the 150th anniversary celebration in 2019.

As implementation draws near for the plans laid by the Sesquicentennial Commission since members were appointed nearly a year ago, Brock announced new appointments Dianna Cantler from the Johnson City Development Authority and Brenda Whitson from the Chamber of Commerce, expected to be confirmed by city commissioners next week, and laid out three committees she’d like to see the Sesquicentennial Commission to adopt.

Brock said Wednesday the suggested committees, Capital Project and Fundraising, Events and Historian, had already started to form organically as the group’s members met and doled out responsibilities.

“Getting into this new phase, we saw some areas where we could reorganize the focus of some of the members and carry out and deliver things created during the planning process,” Brock said. ... “We’re in a place where things need to happen and they need to happen in a faster time frame. If we link with the commission now, we can make things happen.”

The mayor’s email also lays out changes to the structure of the Sesquicentennial Commission’s meetings, with Brock named the facilitator of the meetings and the liaison from the City Commission. The Sesquicentennial Commission’s elected chair, Rebecca Henderson, would serve as an adviser as the group transitions to implementing its historical celebration plans.

Henderson said she was surprised Tuesday when she was asked to meet with Brock to discuss the changes to the celebration committee.

She said she’d asked for more help from city officials in the planning process, because most of the Sesquicentennial Commission’s members work full time. But Henderson didn’t quite expect such drastic changes to the group’s structure.

Brock’s email also suggested changes to the kickoff event the celebration commission planned for Jan. 3, a little more than two weeks away.

Instead of a single event to start the festivities at the downtown Pavilion at Founders Park, Brock wrote that “city staff was very concerned it was too risky to hold it in an outdoor setting.”

Instead, she recommended breaking up the single event into three, with a ceremonial swearing in of Johnson City’s first mayor and a commission proclamation during the City Commission’s Jan. 3 meeting, a VIP reception for donors and a private showing of the contents of a time capsule and renderings of the commission’s legacy project earlier that day at a time and date to be determined, and a public showing of the time capsule’s contents around noon on Jan. 5 at White Duck Taco in downtown Johnson City.

Asked about the proposed changes, Henderson said “I have to be OK with them,” but said “other members might be upset about the process.”

Brock said she talked about the proposed changes with most of the Sesquicentennial Commission’s members, and they viewed them favorably. Though she said she hadn’t sat down with the full City Commission to discuss them, most of the city commissioners agreed after a status update from the Sesquicentennial Commission last month that more city involvement was needed.

Henderson said she’s glad the city is getting more involved in the 150th celebration to give the milestone anniversary the attention it deserves.

“I led the team through the planning phase, and now the city will ensure our plans come to fruition,” she said. “I’m still lending my expertise to see it through completion.”

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