There’s a winner and a loser, but there’s something good afloat, and it involves the dragon boat.
It looks like Pride of the Fox Riverfest will return for show No. 31 in June, even though the show appeared to be in dry dock after some apparent misunderstandings led to September’s decision by Pride of the Fox LLC to dissolve itself and the sudden resignation of its executive director.
That crisis prompted an effort by Mayor Donald DeWitte and resident Tom Anderson to reorganize the St. Charles Festival Committee, the longtime organizer of the summer riverfront events, according to City Administrator Brian Townsend. Late in December, Anderson and others interested in doing so contacted the city with a proposal that first came before the City Council on Jan. 7.
But by that time, former Pride of the Fox LLC Executive Director Julie Farris and her former agency caught wind of the effort to ensure the festival's return in 2013. Farris said she never really had wanted out in the first place, and she and the organization contacted the city on Jan. 7, the same day the City Council was scheduled to consider a proposal from the reorganizing St. Charles Festival Committee. That presentation was tabled to give Pride of the Fox LLC time to put together a proposal.
Her presentation to the nine aldermen meeting as the City Council Government Operations Committee on Tuesday night was enough to convince them to restore her and Pride of the Fox LLC to oversight of this year’s fest. The aldermen voted 7-0 — 1st Ward Alderman Dan Stellato abstained, 2nd Ward Alderman Clifford Carrignan was absent, and 4th Ward Aldermen James E. Martin is the committee chairman, who generally does not vote except in a tie — to recommend formal City Council approval of Pride of the Fox LLC as the festival’s organizing agency.
But the decision was not automatic. Each organization made pitches to the aldermen — presentations that took on an edge, as each took credit for making the Pride of the Fox Riverfest a success. The presentations pitted Farris, who with Pride of the Fox LLC organized the event for three years, against professional event organizer Joy Meierhans, who worked with Tom Anderson and the St. Charles Festival Committee to put on the annual festival for 20 years.
Meierhans also pointed to financial successes the St. Charles Festival Committee enjoyed during its tenure. Those successes allowed it, as it ended its oversight of the fest, to hand over $30,000 to Pride of the Fox LLC as it took the reins. After three years, Meierhans said, Pride of the Fox LLC had burned through that funding and ended with a $15,000 shortfall.
Farris, whose presentation followed that of Meierhans, pointed out that Pride of the Fox LLC took the reins while the nation was still grappling with a recession, which alone would have affected attendance at the event. Further pushing down attendance and the events finances, she said, were “torrential rains” during the group’s first two years oversight of the festival.
She said the festival was successful in Pride of the Fox LLC’s third year, and she also pointed to the organization’s network of 150 volunteers organized under its direction of the festival.
Townsend said the competing agencies proposals bore close similarities: Each sought a continuation of the city’s past level of support — $18,000 in cash and the equivalent of about $11,500, the latter representing a 50 percent discount in the cost of city for the annual festival.
In addition, Pride of the Fox LLC is asking for another $12,000 a year, in return for which the city would be promoted as the top sponsor.
The St. Charles Festival Committee was asking for $15,000 in additional funding for the first year alone, Townsend said.
But members of the council also asked about the events in the second half of 2012 that led to Farris’ resignation as executive director of Pride of the Fox LLC, and its board’s decision to disband. Farris pointed directly to the Downtown St. Charles Partnership, saying both she and Pride of the Fox LLC believed it would merge with the partnership, which would begin oversight of the riverfest beginning in 2013.
She resigned in September and the board decided to disband to expedite that process, and Farris said that she was surprised when she later learned the Downtown St. Charles Partnership would not take leadership of the festival this year.
That’s also why she and the Pride of the Fox LLC members came forward with their own eleventh-hour proposal to reclaim leadership for the fest. Farris said she had not wanted to end her association with the riverfest to begin with,
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