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Kanawha, Charleston leaders pull threat to defund Multifest

By Megan Workman
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County and city of Charleston leaders said Monday they will help support Multifest, despite vowing earlier to cut off funding from the multicultural festival if certain leaders remained after an embezzlement scandal.Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said in a news release he would ask City Council members to approve $15,000 in sponsorship for Multifest at the council's meeting Monday night.Multifest board members removed founder and former President Stephen Starks from his position and offered assurances that he would no longer have any involvement with the annual multicultural festival he started in 1989.Starks' wife, Deborah, pleaded guilty in January to federal tax fraud charges and admitted to embezzling more than $300,000 from Multifest from 2005 to 2010. Stephen Starks has not been charged in relation to his wife's tax fraud and embezzlement.Jones said he is pleased that the next chapter of the event includes new leadership, which takes effect this year."For the past several years, our city budget has included a $12,500 line item for Multifest, but because of the uncertainty over the event in recent months, the budget we submitted to City Council last month does not include that funding," Jones explained. "I will be talking with City Council members about designating $15,000 so Multifest can continue uninterrupted this August."Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said the commission would discuss funding for the event at its March 12 meeting. Commissioner Hoppy Shores requested that the funding issue be placed on the group's agenda.Carper said Multifest's new board has taken several steps to ensure financial integrity of the organization and "a reformed openness to the public and private sponsors that provide money to support it."
"The new board of directors for Multifest has promised to be more forthcoming with their financial information and more transparent in making sure money that is collected for the event is spent on the event," Carper said.City and state entities make up about $35,000 of Multifest's $100,000 in sponsorship revenue, with corporations and small businesses contributing another $35,000, according to the most recent tax forms filed with the Secretary of State's Office.Universities and other small donors make up the final portion of the funding stream, according to the tax forms.Carper welcomes the new Multifest board to hold its meetings in the old courthouse building.Jones said the city will continue to provide police officers, emergency medical technicians and help from other departments involved in setting up before and cleaning up after each of the three days of Multifest at the Capitol Complex.Jones said he enjoys taking his sons to Multifest on the event's Sunday conclusion, "when it's a great reunion of old friends and people who have been involved in the fabric of our community for a long time."Commissioner Dave Hardy also supports the event's continuation.
"The Multifest board is moving in the right direction, and I believe the event can once again be successful," Hardy said.Reach Megan Workman at or 304-348-5113.
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