In 5-2 vote, Sackville Town Council donates $12K in cash to for-profit concerts

Sackville Town Council debated the pros and cons of supporting a “for-profit”entertainment business Monday night before deciding in a split 5-2 vote to contribute $12,000 to sponsor three, free concerts this summer on the shores of Silver Lake.

The concerts, called Levee on the Lake, are being organized by Garrison Hill Entertainment, a privately owned company that has recruited several other sponsors including the Royal Bank, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation and New Country, a radio station in Moncton.

The first concert is scheduled from noon to five p.m. on July 18 with others to follow in August and September.

‘Hungry for events’

Councillor Bill Evans

“I know that the community is hungry for events,” said Councillor Bill Evans. “We’re all dealing with frustration about the pandemic and I understand there’s a desire for things like this to happen.”

Evans was referring to plans for staging the five-hour concerts from a property on the Mount View Rd. shore of Silver Lake to audiences gathered in boats and other craft at safe distances on the water.

“It’s going to create some buzz for our community,” said Councillor Shawn Mesheau. “I challenge our downtown business community and our hotels and B and Bs to kind of step up at this point in time and be a part of this. Here’s your opportunity.”

Mesheau noted that the town would be committing itself to providing $3,000 as an “in-kind” contribution for the use of town boat ramps, snow fencing and other services plus $4,000 in cash for each of the three concerts, but only after proper expense receipts have been submitted.

“If things are cancelled, there’s really no cost to the municipality other than the in-kind services,” Mesheau said.

‘Can of worms’

Councillor Joyce O’Neil at an earlier council meeting

Councillor Joyce O’Neil said that while she would be willing to provide the in-kind contribution, she opposed supporting a private venture with public money.

“I feel we will be opening a can of worms if we provide financial funding to an organization that’s other than a not-for-profit one,” O’Neil said.

Councillor Andrew Black also opposed the cash contribution to Levee on the Lake.

“This request is asking for public funds to support a business that will be putting on an event for Sackvillians, which would be great for people to attend,” Black said. “But I’ve heard from a few constituents and it’s my belief that using public funds to support a business like this is not a good idea.”

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken argued that supporting the concerts would not set a precedent because the town already contributes money to such organizations as Sappyfest and Live Bait Theatre.

“Those, although they don’t generally make a profit, are not technically not-for-profit organizations,” Aiken said, adding that last year the town paid for entertainers to come — “those are essentially one-person businesses that make a profit.”

Aiken said the free concerts could help local restaurants and hotels.

When Mayor Higham called the vote, Deputy Mayor Aiken along with Councillors Evans, Mesheau, Tower and Butcher voted in favour of the contribution to Levee on the Lake while Councillors O’Neil and Black voted against. (Councillor Bruce Phinney was apparently unable to attend the online meeting because of password issues with his laptop computer.)

Sappyfest chair expresses dismay

2020 Sappyfest’s flying cat

Jeska Grue, chair of Sappyfest says she was “angry and disheartened” last night when she learned that town council had decided to support a series of for-profit concerts with three times the amount it contributes each year to Sappyfest.

During a telephone interview and also on Facebook, Grue pointed out that Sappyfest has been a registered, non-profit organization since 2009. (According to its website, Live Bait Theatre is also a registered non-profit.)

“Sappyfest receives $4,000 a year after we apply for a town grant,” she says, adding the festival’s total budget is about $120,000.

“So our funding from the town is just 3% of our overall expenses,” she adds. “It is the largest visitor draw to Sackville each year for well over 10 years,” she says, adding that Sappyfest has never accepted corporate sponsorship, partly because of its mandate.

“I’m firm in my conviction that for-profit, corporate sponsor-driven festivals serve an entirely different mandate than not-for-profit festivals. And last night, town council voted to approve funding towards one with a dollar amount local non-profit orgs couldn’t even dream of,” Grue wrote in her Facebook post.

To those living here, what the hell!” she added.

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17 Responses to In 5-2 vote, Sackville Town Council donates $12K in cash to for-profit concerts

  1. Alice Cotton says:

    So is this the new marketing plan? Discard Sappy and Live Bait, two of our fabulous non-profit organizations?!?! I am very disappointed, to say the least.

  2. Thilo Joerger says:

    Another example of the majority of this council’s members blowing the town’s money without having done due diligence (labelling Sappyfest and Live Bait, in a convoluted double negative, “not technically not-for-profit organizations,” when indeed both have been and continue to be registered non profit organizations. Both organizations have been dedicated to Sackville and our region for decades, but neither of them has ever been supported to the level of this latest money throwaway.

    Garrison Hill Entertainment is a Newfoundland based organization headed by ex-NBer Shelly Chase, who has previously organized an event featuring Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Danny Williams, as reported by St Johns “The Gazette.”

    “All three of them were just lovely men, so gracious and so sincerely interested in what we were doing and in the music and the place,” Chase is quoted after the event.

    https://www.thetelegram.com/lifestyles/chasing-her-dream-133938/

    She hosted a similar event in Moncton, with KISS frontman Gene Simmons as keynote speaker, in 2017.

    This does not appear to be a starving arts organization. Also, a venue viewable from vessels on the lake is hardly a drawing card for the majority of the Sackville population.

    This council really needs to start concentrating on working for the people of Sackville.

    • brian lane says:

      If you had done your due diligence you would know that Shelly Chase is a resident of Sackville.

      How does linking to an old news story prove a point about current financial situations of her industry or clients? You possibly may have noticed many organizations are struggling.

  3. Alan Barbour says:

    During the June 22nd special council meeting Sackville town council declined to set up a meagre small grants program of $25,000 to help existing town businesses adapt to Covid 19. Here is what some of the councillors said at the time:

    Councillor Evans:
    “I would be really cautious about giving money to one for profit business and not giving it to other ones without very clear criteria established in advance…”

    Councillor Butcher:
    “We need a really clear set of criteria and I don’t think counsellors should be the ones who choose…personally as a councillor I would not want to be picking from business A or business B”

    Mayor Higham:
    “I’m very wary that we are seen supporting one group (or business) over another”

    Councillor Aiken:
    “I would hate to think we were giving money just to support bad entrepreneurship”

    Yet, on July 13th, only three weeks later, council voted in favour of supporting a for profit business, Garrison Hill Entertainment, with a $12,000 grant!!!

    Council’s contradictions show their indifference to the value of supporting small downtown businesses. Local business are suffering, they need help, and now they are angry too.

  4. The comments already made here and those raised on Facebook about this matter should give members of Town Council pause. They would be wise to take their counsel from people better informed than they seem to have been.

  5. Janet Hammock says:

    This is a serious misstep by Council. It reveals the attitude by all but two Councillors that our local not-for-profit entertainment organizations are not valued, and that our local businesses which are struggling are not valued.

    SappyFest and Live Bait Theatre which Councillor Aitken erroneously refers to as “technically” nonprofit are Indeed registered non-profit organizations. Wow! Talk about a fast way to anger a large number of Sackville residents who have worked hard for years to enable those two organizations to deliver a quality product, while receiving a pittance from the Town!

    Talk about a fast way to anger and alienate local businesses with a command to “step up…now’s your chance!”

    Talk about a way to take our money and throw it into a series of events which folks who don’t own a boat cannot even attend! Perhaps they think we should all run out and buy boats so we can go? Come on!

    I am particularly upset for Jeska Grue who Chairs SappyFest. I would find it extremely difficult to continue, if I were her. It has been hard enough for those two organizations to build and grow their enterprises in Sackville, but to have to continue on in the face of a decision like the one Council just made? — well, personally, I think I’d want to leave Sackville.

    Joyce O’Neil and Andrew Black got it right. Council should Immediately reconvene, find a way to rescind that decision, based as it was on a massive error in facts, and get it right this time.

    • Alan Barbour says:

      By voting against this motion Councillor O’Neil avoids coming off as a hypocrite. However, at the June 22nd special council meeting she too voted against the meagre small grants program. Her rationale for not supporting the grant? In her opinion businesses are now actually busier – “If you look at the different businesses, the stores are so much busier”.

      O’Neil may not be a hypocrite but she is certainly out to lunch.

    • Kelly Alder says:

      Funny thing is as our local business continued to struggle it was basically you, Janet, and many others commenting that were so vocal to make sure council shut down our opportunity to possibly get ahead. Doesn’t work both ways, you can’t oppose some businesses for fair treatment and cry when something doesn’t go according to your way of thinking. Very curious how you think your views are the only ones that matter.

      • Alan Barbour says:

        I believe in a level playing field. Council should never make decisions that favour one business over another but should adapt policies that elevate all businesses. I am not upset that I personally did not receive any money from town council, we have already closed our business. I am advocating for those of you who are still left standing by pointing out the hypocrisy of the council’s words and actions.

        (Disagreement does not mean I do not value your opinion or your right to an opposing view)

  6. Janet Hammock says:

    Thanks for this clarification, Alan! I

    • brian lane says:

      Watch the Special Council meeting of June 22. There was no actual program presented, it was a discussion generated by a proposal from the CAO of what could council do to assist. No votes were taken and no consensus on what was needed – it was left to the CAO to survey business to In fact find out what is needed from their prospective. The 25K figure mentioned so often is the approved budget for Renaissance Sackville, which could be a vehicle used for a program. The figure mentioned by the CAO for a possible assistance program was 25-50K. Perhaps some unfortunate comments were made, but council were making an honest effort to work through a difficult discussion without the benefit of facts or requests.

      As far as the actual topic at hand – Levee on The Lake. The entire grant process needs to be reviewed- criteria, disbursement or recovery of funds, out of process requests etc. Council and organizations are facing unprecedented times and are trying to adapt on the fly. I am not normally a cheerleader for this council but they are trying. If you don’t like the direction there eventually will be an election.

      We are lucky as a community to have two different events happening in the next couple of weeks. Can we at least call a ceasefire and let the events continue and try solve the issues moving forward.

      • Alan Barbour says:

        Most of these councillors and many of the municipal staff have been with the town for two or more terms, that’s eight to twelve years to sort out “the entire grant process”. How long should we wait? It’s no longer an issue of them not having had enough time to get around to it, it seems willful at this point.

  7. Les Hicks says:

    As much as I want to see our Maritime musicians being supported by local music fans during these difficult pandemic times, I have to agree with Councillors O’Neil and Black on this decision. I think the other Councillors have unfortunately ‘missed the boat’ (pardon the pun), on this issue. As hard as the current conditions are on local artists, I don’t think it is in the best interests of Sackville residents for Town Hall to be providing financial support to what is in effect a For Profit event. If a municipality like the Town of Sackville is to provide support for events, it should be for Non-Profit events, considering that it is taxpayers’ money that is being used.

    As others have already mentioned, the venue for this event, which can only be accessed by those with some type of watercraft, automatically precludes many residents from being able to participate and enjoy what will no doubt be professional level musical entertainment. I would suggest that along with the corporate sponsorship that Garrison Hill Entertainment has managed to acquire, it would have been preferable for this organization to charge admission fees to the event(s) at the boat launching points and to request donations from folk/country/bluegrass music fans in Sackville and surrounding areas who want to support the participating musicians but are unable to attend.

    Apart from this issue of the use of taxpayers’ money for funding, I wish the organizers and musicians great success with these events.

  8. Janet Hammock says:

    Having learned a little more about how the Levee on the Lake was conceived, and how it unfolded to this point, I can see that, like everything else, the complications of COVID-19 have made things triply challenging for both the organizers of the event, and for the Town Council. In this extremely difficult pandemic time, I think it may be prudent to step back and realize that everyone involved was trying their best to do something good for our community. The enormous challenges associated with COVID -19 are going to be with us for a long time. This council is doing an incredible job of working on our behalf under extremely difficult circumstances, and while process improvements can and should be made to areas that are murky, let’s give them support for doing their best in this chaotic and unpredictable world in which we now live.

    • Alan Barbour says:

      The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Black Duck, Thunder and Lightning and Pizza Delight are all gone, forever. Who’s next, PiByCrow, Knuckles, Mel’s?

      Splashing around the lake in July is all well and good but if we wake up on a cold October morning during the second wave of the pandemic and there is nowhere in town to buy food or gas we may have some regrets.

      This pandemic is about priorities. If the council has finite funds, too little to support our businesses, then they have too little to throw parties. Levee on the Lake is not a pandemic spending priority. Community resilience is.

  9. Janet Hammock says:

    Could not be better said, Alan.

  10. Alan Barbour says:

    How do we measure success?

    By all accounts, those who attended the Levee on the Lake really enjoyed themselves.

    Turn out for the event seemed low, estimates put the crowd at somewhere between 50 and 100 people. Interestingly, during the two online council meetings, no one from Garrison Hill gave an estimate of attendance numbers and even more surprising, it seems no one from town council asked how many people this event was expected to attract. Based on Saturday’s one-day event budget being upwards of $40,000 ($400 per person!) one would assume the organizers were hoping to attract more attendees.

    Did people travel to Sackville and patronize our local businesses? It was pointed out to me that it would not be unusual for there to be 20 water craft on the lake on a given Saturday in July. Of the 40 or 50 water craft in attendance, a substantial percentage were people who live on or around the lake who have easy access with their boats. Downtown did not seem to be particularly busy, and there were no groups from Moncton or NS, PEI.

    Did this event generate a lot of buzz for Sackville? Marketing and social media promotion were repeatedly mentioned by Garrison Hill as a key reason for the Town of Sackville to come on board as a sponsor. As of Saturday, at the height of the event, Levee on the Lake had only 6 followers on their Instagram count and 120 on their FaceBook account. The Town of Sackville has invested a total of $15,000 in this and two similar events in August and September, but did not mention or promote this first event on either the town FaceBook page (5194 followers) or Instagram account (2260 followers)

    “It’s the Pandemic, duh”.

    Unfortunately businesses are suffering and although this event is well meaning, it seems it has yet to accomplish what it has set out to do. The reality for businesses and municipalities and promoters is that our problem is not that there are not enough festivals or events to drive tourism and spending, the reality is people are scared and are choosing to stay home and socialize in small groups.

    The pandemic is here for a good long while. Going forward the Town needs to develop funding priorities and policy and stick to them.

    -Alan Barbour

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