Celebrate Antioch Foundation withdraws from organizing annual July 4th event claims City wants to take over

Motts says Thorpe reached out to another organization; he, city manager, Wilson refuse to say why, who will organize it or how it will be funded; Johnson claims he was unaware, as do Ogorchock, Barbanica

By Allen D. Payton

According to the board members and officers of Celebrate Antioch Foundation (CAF) that has been organizing the annual Independence Day Celebration for the past decade, the organization will not be for this year’s event, as they’re claiming the City of Antioch wants to take it over. The city council also contracted with CAF to organize all of last year’s Sesquicentennial events, celebrating the 150th anniversary of cityhood.

But in an email from CAF’s Board President Joy Motts on behalf of the CAF Executive Board and Officers, on Friday, January 13 (at 11:39 am) to City Manager Con Johnson and copied to Thorpe, the other four city council members, and Parks and Recreation Director Brad Helfenberger, she claimed the “relationship has changed” between CAF and the City.

The relationship began to sour last year, as previously reported, when Thorpe, Johnson and District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker pushed to take over organizing of the annual Antioch Juneteenth event. Helfenberger withdrew the permit from organizer Claryssa Wilson, whose parents were supporting Thorpe’s recall, including her father Clarke who was the titular chairman of the effort. CAF was the fiscal agent for Claryssa Wilson and her committee, to accept donations to provide the funding, and the event was relocated to Brentwood. The City hosted the Antioch event and contracted with an Oakland-based motorcycle club, Makin’ Moves, whose leaders live in Antioch, to organize it.

The relationship was impacted further in October, when Motts, during her campaign for District 1 City Council seat, publicly called for Mayor Lamar Thorpe’s resignation following the county’s settlement of the sexual harassment lawsuit against Thorpe by two of his former female employees when he was executive director of the now defunct Los Medanos Community Healthcare District.

CAF’s Email to City

Motts’ Jan. 13th email reads:

Council and City Staff,

11 years ago, a group of citizens came together to help our city. During the great recession the City of Antioch, on the verge of bankruptcy, was unable to continue to bring the decades-long 4th of July fireworks and celebration to its citizens. After a two-year absence, this group of citizens, all volunteers, privately raised the monies needed and organized a great 4th of July celebration and fireworks show in 2012 where over 10,000  attended. The following year this group formed a nonprofit 501c3, the Celebrate Antioch Foundation and for the last 10 years has continued to volunteer and privately bring the 4th of July and other great community celebrations free to the residents and families of Antioch.

This has only been possible because of a great working relationship with the City of Antioch and the support of the City Council. Unfortunately, that relationship has changed, and it has become clear to our foundation that the mayor and city would like to go in a different direction. We have come to this conclusion because of the city’s actions toward our organization. Last year’s Juneteenth debacle, the lack of acknowledgement for our work on the Sesquicentennial and your most recent efforts to reach out to another organization, to organize and facilitate Antioch’s 4th of July festivities have spoken for you. For the City of Antioch to proceed in this manner, without the respect of a conversation with our foundation, has been very disappointing.

Planning and fundraising for the 4th of July is a massive undertaking and is a very expensive event for CAF. The preparation for this event starts the year prior in order to bring a safe and quality event to our community. And more importantly, this only happens because of the dedication of our volunteers who unselfishly offer hours and hours of their time and energy to CAF events and giving back to their community. It is impossible nor financially plausible for CAF to continue down this path of organizing an Antioch 4th of July celebration without having a willing partnership with the city.

Therefore, and considering what has transpired, it is the decision of the executive board, officers and members of the Celebrate Antioch Foundation to take a pause and we will not be organizing or sponsoring Antioch’s 4th of July fireworks and celebration this year. We want to be clear that this decision has absolutely nothing to do with Park and Recreation Director Brad Helfenberger or his department. Brad has been an exceptional and professional partner with our foundation, and we look forward to working with him on our foundation’s other upcoming community celebrations.

We wish you well.

Thank you,

Celebrate Antioch Foundation Executive Board and Officers


Motts Explains Why CAF Withdrew, Will Continue Organizing Other Community Events

Asked why she sent the email and who told her the City was taking over organizing the July 4th event Motts said, “The writing was kind of on the wall. It started with the Juneteenth event, last year.”

“There was no acknowledgement whatsoever for the Sesquicentennial events and our partnership,” she continued. “And then the last straw for the board and officers was when we found out the mayor had reached out to at least one other organization to take over the 4th of July. The City, the mayor, have never reached out to us to indicate they had any concern that they wanted to go in a different direction.”

About her board and volunteers not receiving recognition Motts shared, “These are people with full-time jobs, and they’ve given their heart and soul putting on events. We had great partnerships, too, like the Historical Society and Delta Veterans Group. I thought we did a good job pulling things together especially in such a short time. It’s really disappointing to the board to have the council never acknowledge the Sesquicentennial. We don’t do it because we need a pat on the back but because we care about our community and want it to thrive.”

“The reason it worked is because we had this wonderful partnership with the City. We no longer have that,” she said. “It’s not the staff. It’s the mayor and obviously he has the votes to do what he does. This was really to protect the foundation.”

“We want to work with people who want to work with us,” the CAF president continued. “We’ve proven ourselves in putting on events for 10 years. It’s a vendetta against me, Velma, whatever.”

“We’re still going to do our other events and just approved the list which we’ll be getting out, soon,” Motts added.

Councilwoman Wilson Serves on CAF’s Board

According to the organization’s website, the five-member CAF Board includes Motts and District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson. As previously reported, not only did Wilson have a conflict of interest voting for the $145,000 contract with CAF, her own organization, East Contra Costa Women‘s Leadership Initiative, is promoted on the CAF website and CAF has served as its fiscal agent. In addition, one of the directors for CAF is Velma Wilson, who was one of the 20 proponents of Thorpe’s recall along with her aforementioned husband, Clarke.

Questions for Johnson, Thorpe, Wilson

In a January 23rd email to Johnson, Thorpe and District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson who serves as one of CAF’s five board members were asked the following questions about CAF’s email: “Why is it happening with this year’s Antioch July 4th celebration and less than six months before? Do you think the City or another organization can do better than the Celebrate Antioch Foundation has been doing to organize it? Do you believe you have enough time to get it planned? Do you have a budget for it, yet? Or do you plan on raising funds through corporate and individual donations? If so, what non-profit will be receiving them? Does the budget need council approval? If so, when will it be placed on a meeting agenda? Then will it be sent out for any group to bid on organizing it or do you have a group in mind, already? Is it going to be Making Moves, the Oakland-based motorcycle club that organized last year’s Antioch Juneteenth event?”

Wilson was specifically asked, “what have you done to advocate on their (CAF’s) behalf, either with last year’s Juneteenth event and/or with this year’s July 4th event?”

Ogorchock, Barbanica Not Aware of City’s Efforts, Johnson Claims the Same

Asked if she was made aware of the City’s efforts District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock said, “No. I did reach out to Con in an email, asking why Joy felt that way.”

Her email was sent at 12:21 p.m. on January 13.

Ogorchock said Johnson responded at 4:03 p.m. that same day writing, “I haven’t heard anything pertaining to this issue.”

Asked if there had been any additional information about the City taking over organizing the July 4th event, she said, “None that I know of.”

Asked if the council will have to approve any support for the event, Ogorchock responded, “We’re going to have to. We used to provide a financial contribution and city services, including police and public works for the event, each year. That always required council approval.”

District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica was asked the same question if he was aware of CAF’s allegations before receiving Motts’ email, to which he responded, “No, I was not.”

Asked if he had followed up with Johnson about it Barbanica responded, “Not yet.”

As of Saturday afternoon, Jan. 28 no responses were received from Johnson, Thorpe or Wilson.

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