HEFLIN — The Heflin City Council heard Tuesday night from organizers of an upcoming cultural event which has caused an uproar within the community.
Council members did not take a formal vote, but, hearing the question posed by the mayor, decided to honor the rental agreement with an event calling itself “Artgasm Expo.” It will be held at the Heflin armory on Feb. 15.
Heflin Mayor Rudy Rooks invited Rita Chandler and Flenardo Taylor, both promoters of the event, to tell the council of what will happen when it’s held.
According to the group’s web page, the event will be an evening of poetry, music, singing and comedy. The heart of the controversy, however, has been a provocative promotional poster online — now modified to be less revealing — and postings by the artists to the event’s Facebook page, which included erotic poetry and cartoons.
“I tell you what our issues were, it was some advertisements that we really took a big hit on, a lot of complaints, a lot of folks that were really upset with that,” Rooks said.
Chandler said she wanted to promote local talents and did not want to harm or hurt anyone.
“We’ve had events here before, we’ve had a gospel event, we’ve had a Thanksgiving event, we’ve had a sweethearts event which is similar to what we’re doing this time,” said Chandler.
Chandler said any provocative material has been removed from the Facebook page promoting the event.
Taylor said he is a local poet and author and wants to give back to the people in the creative community.
“It is a romantic evening for sexual adults, it is a ticketed event,” said Taylor.
“I do apologize to everyone that went left field with the situation, I’ll take the hit on that,” Taylor said.
Councilman Travis Crowe said he saw cartoons that were not suited for children on the event page.
“When you’ve got a little granddaughter who calls, ‘Paw Paw you saw this? What is this?’ You have to explain to a six-year-old,” said Crowe.
Rooks said he didn’t think a six-year-old needed to be on Facebook but nonetheless all of the offending material on the Facebook page has been removed.
Chandler, who is from Heflin, said she has promoted events in other countries, numerous states and small towns but was not prepared for the social media backlash she received.
“I’ve never experienced this, I did not realize that people did not understand. They could have called me because my number was on that flier,” said Chandler.
“But then for some of the rage to come out, I was like totally blown just by going through all of that stuff over the last day or so ... I was like, ‘Whoa, this is what our people here think? Really?’ I grew up with some of the people making some of the comments,” said Chandler.
“I’m not going to let anything happen here that shouldn't be happening,” said Chandler.
Councilman Shannon Roberts was not pleased that the event was associated with Heflin Parks and Recreation.
“That is not what our parks and rec should be about, that is not what our public buildings should be about,” said Roberts.
Tammy Perry, Heflin PARD director, was in attendance to set the record straight concerning who rented the armory to the group.
“This was not a decision of the mayor, council or anyone at parks and rec, this was approved by me, it was approved based on our experience with Rita in the past,” said Perry.
Perry said she will not respond to the individuals on Facebook who have been critical of the decision to rent to the group.
“No one picked up the phone and called me, they took it to Facebook. I think that’s very unprofessional and I won’t respond on Facebook,” said Perry.
Councilman Clint “Shag” Austin said the decision was a difficult one to make.
“Our hands our tied, either way — if we say we're not going to honor it, we look bad that way and then some of the citizens are going to say we look bad for letting it go on, no-win situation,” said Austin.
In other business the council voted unanimously to vacate Stephens Street.