HIAWATHA — Seven months after the cross-Iowa bicycle ride came through town, a Hiawatha business owner finally got her day in court Tuesday over a $600 event fee she said was unfairly charged.
It's not clear if she will get back the money assessed for her event when RAGBRAI stopped July 23 in Hiawatha, but it's the principle of the matter, said Jennifer Goodlove, who owns the Farmer's Daughter's Market.
“My back was up against the wall that I pay this, which I don't think is fair," Goodlove testified in small claims court.
Magistrate Robin L. O'Brien Licht heard more than two hours of testimony before adjourning. A ruling will likely take 30 to 60 days, she said.
Goodlove says she was unfairly made to pay the fee — under threat of being shut down — for an event at her business on July 23. The event, which she called Heehaw Days, featured bands, a shade tent and portable bathrooms and was in line, she said, with similar events she holds there about a dozen times a year.
Goodlove sued Dave Saari, chairman of the Hiawatha RAGBRAI vendor committee, and Hiawatha City Administrator Kim Downs, asserting they demanded the fee or would to shut down the event she'd already scheduled and paid for.
Downs and Saari said the vendor fee was charged for activities exceeding normal business operations in order to profit from RAGBRAI, a popular Iowa bicycle ride that can draw 20,000 people in a day. The money helped pay for security, traffic control buses and other needs of the event.
The vendor fees were part of an ordinance passed by the city in the spring before RAGBRAI. Downs testified the RAGBRAI organization, which is part of the Des Moines Register, provided language for the ordinance and required it be passed as a condition of being included on the route. It is similar or identical to ordinances cities around the state adopt when hosting RAGBRAI.
The widespread use of these rules and RAGBRAI's popularity as one of the state's premiere tourism events has put a spotlight on the case, despite the small claims setting.
Downs challenged an argument by Goodlove that city officials and members of the Hiawatha RAGBRAI committee, a specially formed non-profit by Friends of Hiawatha Park to run RAGBRAI festivities, had overlapping roles. The RAGBRAI organization recommends such organizations be formed to organize the event, Downs said.
She said the committee — not the city — oversaw the vendor rules and processed the fees, even though she took Goodlove's check. It was given to the treasurer of the RAGBRAI committee, she said.
Downs also contested the notion she made a threat.
“I did not have the conversation with her about being shut down, Downs testified.
Saari testified he did contact Goodlove about the fees after being notified by Downs of Hee Haw Days. He also acknowledged he told Goodlove the state patrol and the main RAGBRAI organizers would likely come shut down her operations if she didn't pay.
Goodlove said she had no choice but to pay because the money was demanded just a week before the event. But Downs testified the rules and requirements had been publicized earlier. A vendor fee was charged to at least three businesses for activities on their properties, she said.
Goodlove also said her event wasn't publicized in RAGBRAI materials, which she said was the case for other vendors.