This is my first critical blog post about members of council that I supported and voted for in the October 27th election. I intended to write about this just after the 17th February council meeting when they voted unanimously to continue to unconditionally prop up the Collingwood Elvis Festival. But I got side tracked by other things and temporarily forgot about it. Then my good friend Rick Crouch sent a letter to the editor to The Connection a couple of weeks ago here:
I completely agree with him. Here we are with the towns finances in a complete shambles. The people whom I helped elect have rubber stamped this festival to continue to run unabated, with very little oversight or accountability. In fact when the $75,000 loss was brought before them in council chambers, all I heard were glowing accolades about how important this festival is to us and how it brings worldwide recognition to our town. I say that is complete nonsense. I just did a Wikipedia search on “The Collingwood Elvis Festival” here:
Notice something? Yeah me too this “Worldwide” festival doesn’t even warrant its own mention on Wikipedia. This brings to mind a line by Clint Eastwood from one of his Dirty Harry movies. His wimpy police captain was pumping up his own tires about all his past achievements and Harry Callaghan says “Yeah you’re a legend in your own mind”. That’s what we seem to be when it comes to this annoying festival “Legends in our own minds”. Ladies and Gentleman those people “worldwide” are laughing at us not with us. Hold this damned thing in Collingwood if we must, but make it accountable and pay for itself. Also have Elvis Presley Enterprises pay us for the privilege of using our town to promote this fast fading relic of the 60’s and 70’s, instead of the other way around.
I asked all the candidates that I supported in the last election the following question back on 25th July 2014:
Do you think that the tax payers of Collingwood should continue to subsidize financially and support with towns labour and resources the Collingwood Elvis Festival?
Below are the successful candidates responses. You tell me if anything matches what was discussed and then unanimously approved on 17th February council meeting:
As long as the event can break even financially it should be considered to continue. The economic spin off is significant to support many food, beverage, accommodation, support services and retail businesses in Collingwood, which translates into more disposable income to be spent after the event at the other businesses who may not benefit as greatly specifically from the Festival.
I believe that it is important to assess the Festival on an ongoing basis to ensure the benefits still outweigh the investment by the taxpayers. When they don’t, well the decision is obvious.
I disagree that the vast majority of Collingwood residents dislike or disapprove of the Elvis Festival. Many folks I know find it to be a fun and entertaining event, whether they are Elvis fans or not, and very, very good for many businesses. The fact is that the festival has provided the Town of Collingwood with international profile, and brings thousands of visitors with money in their pockets and the intention to spend it. Hundreds of small Ontario communities would fall all over themselves for such an opportunity.
I believe that some level of funding for the event can be rationalized; however I believe that the funding should be in the form of a Sponsorship, not a donation. A sponsorship agreement carries with it deliverables for both sides – the organization receives a cash and/or in-kind injection and the sponsor (should) receive in exchange a guaranteed minimum number of impressions – on-site, on-air, and online. The sponsorship recognition should foster and reinforce the appropriate imaging for the Town. The sponsor should be permitted to establish an on-site presence for self-promotion and dissemination of information and/or promotional materials. This is an area that the Town could take advantage of and, to my knowledge, never has – to set up a staffed information kiosk and disseminate materials and information on community profile, forms, and services and that would be of interest to potential new businesses or new residents. If in-kind services are part of the sponsorship package, focus on creating legacy benefits – like planting and beautifying the flower beds in the parking lots (many of which are not planted this year and look terrible, in my opinion) or permanent fixtures that can be used for other events and activities, just as an example, collapsible bleachers.
A sponsorship package creates accountability. If the sponsored event declines in deliverables like attendance, average expenditure per visitor and/or reduced media exposure, or if the event begins to have a negative impact on the image of the town, then the expenditure is no longer warranted, and the Town has a business case for declining the sponsorship.
The real question for me is what is the return on investment the Town gets for the money and manpower it contributes to the Elvis Festival. It is not clear to me that this has been properly assessed to date, but I think any meaningful discussion about the future of the Festival should start with a cost – benefit analysis to show what the economic impact is for our community.
I think that there are other less tangible but important considerations such as community building and civic pride that hosting these events can bring to the community.
At the end of the day, if the Festival brings tourism dollars to our community, supports our service and retail sector, shows off our community and generates a sense of civic pride for our community then the Festival is a good investment.
I think this is a discussion that the next Council should have with the proper information and data at hand.
“My previous background with the Elvis Festival (formerly Competition Chair through my involvement as President of the Chamber of Commerce) provides me with a base of understanding of how a fledgling idea hatches and then what transpires to guaranteeing that it is successful and long-lasting signature event. When an event becomes globally known and has grown into a professionally endorsed year in year out major success Council and the community must do everything it can to keep it going. They have to ensure that it runs smoothly and safely, that area business benefit as much as possible and that all of the residents can enjoy being involved and interacting with the event’s guests and participants. It became very clear in the early years of the event that this can’t be just a volunteer run event. The size of the undertaking is one reason but another major one is that it is during prime vacation time and it would be extremely difficult to regularly attract enough volunteers.
I support the involvement of the municipality in meeting the mandate of the Elvis Festival Service Board. That being said it is imperative, in every instance possible, when it requires the use of town expenditures and resources that a proper business plan approach be incorporated. That includes utilizing an annual cost/benefit analysis review as the basis to examine the accuracy of projections and then to determine the next commitment. Currently for this, as I see it, the required system is in place. For example after the July 2013 event the EFSB quickly provided on Sept. 9/13 a detailed analysis and obtained Oct. approval for 2014. Appropriately the EFSB includes council, staff, Chamber, BIA and very importantly 2 community reps, as well as an Event Manager, to ensure proper control is in place. This working model is a result of Council incorporating community initiative and planning to maximize the resulting benefits. Control and community engagement is imperative when holding an internationally recognized event that attracts so many visitors to our community. We want to provide such a wonderful and safe experience to them that they will want to return again and again.”