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Embezzlement has big consequences

Stephen Starks and his wife, Deborah, began the annual MultiFest celebration at the Capitol in 1990 because of complaints that Regatta organizers weren't lining up music that appealed to all segments of the city's population.

Quickly, MultiFest became a great success.

People of all races and backgrounds came to enjoy this event, which ironically outlived the Regatta. Some people schedule family reunions around the dates of MultiFest. Corporations and local governments have provided sponsorship funds for the festival.

But the time has come for the Starks family to leave the event it began, immediately and permanently. The guilty plea by Deborah to charges that she embezzled $306,872 from 2005 to 2010 makes it impossible for anyone to trust her or her husband with public money.

Incredibly, even as she awaits sentencing in federal court in April, her husband told the Charleston Gazette that he would continue in a leadership position on the festival's board of directors.

"We're anticipating that we certainly plan on having MultiFest," Starks told the Gazette. "We have restructured our board and organization so that everyone can be assured that everything is appropriate."

That doesn't go far enough.  

That his wife embezzled about $50,000 a year from the organization for six years alone is enough to disqualify Starks.

From a professional standpoint he as the president of the organization failed to stop her, as executive director, from looting the festival.

The Gazette's Zac Taylor asked him how that could be.

"I can't respond to anything about that at this point," he replied. "I will respond at a proper time."

Not being able to answer that question is all the public needs to know about the situation.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper - both longtime supporters of MultiFest - said that as long as Starks was involved, they could not support giving taxpayer money to the festival.

They have it right.

Here's hoping festival advocates with appropriate detachment from the Starks can step forward and carry on an event that has become a beloved summer tradition in the city.



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