JOPLIN — A controversy that erupted after some Joplin residents sought to borrow money from a tornado recovery fund to cover initial costs of a concert has drawn the attention of the state attorney general.
The organizers of the concert, which was to star country artist Travis Tritt, asked the Community Foundation of Southwest Missouri for what they termed a loan to stage the concert last Sunday. The event was to raise more money for the relief fund, which was set up after the May 22 tornado devastated part of the city, and would have been part of daylong events to remember the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But after some residents complained about the request, Tritt backed out, and the concert was canceled.
"We did receive some calls about the concert, so we are reviewing the situation," said Nanci Gonder, spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster. "I think we'll move pretty quickly and try to resolve it this week."
Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr told the Joplin City Council last Tuesday that a group of citizens trying to organize the concert needed seed money to guarantee expenses, but the loan would be paid back with donations.
One of the organizers, Julia Skidmore, was securing sponsors whose money would be deposited in the tornado fund. She also was arranging for a national cable network to broadcast a message about the concert and a text-to-give service to allow people to donate by texting, The Joplin Globe reported.
By Friday afternoon, "all of the upfront money for the concert had been recouped through sponsorship pledges," Rohr said Monday. "Any additional sponsorship money, text-to-give revenue and post production money from the concert would have been directed back to the Community Foundation to provide even more help to the victims of the storm."
Rohr said he could understand why some residents objected to using tornado relief funds for a concert "but I would do it again if I had to. I have been working on the storm for 3 1/2 months. I'm not going to do anything to jeopardize that or to jeopardize storm victims."
He said he understood that sponsors had pledged $75,000, which would have been used to repay the loan.
Patrick Tuttle, the director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Monday that Tritt's booking agency had returned $30,000, and no other funds were expended.
Mayor Mike Woolston said people who complained to the attorney general might not have known all the facts involved in the transaction.
"No money has changed hands inappropriately. There has been not one cent lost or unaccounted for or anything like that," he said. "I'm confident the city will be exonerated."