Staff Columnist

Region still needs great aspirations

Demand full accounting, but don't let festival fiasco stifle big ideas

Signage for the now abandoned tourism entity GO Cedar Rapids is seen at the intersection of 2nd Ave. SE and 2nd St. SE in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Nov. 2, 2018. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
Signage for the now abandoned tourism entity GO Cedar Rapids is seen at the intersection of 2nd Ave. SE and 2nd St. SE in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Nov. 2, 2018. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Sorry, Dr. Peale, but the advice long linked to you seems to have hit a newbo evolving narrative of blame.

Pastor Norman Vincent Peale, author of the still popular if also oft-criticized 1952 book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” is known primarily for one piece of advice: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” That similar words encouraging people to “aim higher” or “reach higher,” as the good folks in Marion painted on city vehicles and water towers, can be traced to a 1709 George Herbert poem goes to show how long people have valued the idea of stretching themselves toward seemingly unattainable goals in the hope, even in failure, something of worth is accomplished.

But, in the wake of the newbo evolve fiasco, perhaps we need to reconsider how much we truly value great aspirations or, at least, how we assess them.

Scott Tallman, once the community events director of GO Cedar Rapids and now the bearer of much of the public scorn for the grandiose two-day festival that lost $2.3 million and bilked an untold number of vendors, says he’s been unfairly used as a scapegoat. The task sent down the pipe by city leaders, he says, was to create a “game changer,” or a “signature event” to draw national attention (and tourism dollars). It’s been a quiet complaint of many connected to the festival, that various community leaders and elected officials pushed for a large-scale event, even as those who may have done so are distancing themselves from its aftermath.

And, let’s be honest, there has been no detailed post-mortem to help the public understand the hows and whys behind the festival. Some have pointed fingers at Tallman and former CEO Aaron McCreight, saying the duo misled members of the GO Cedar Rapids board and executive committee on finances, although no criminal charges have transpired. That city officials held small, private meetings with GO Cedar Rapids’ officials to determine the fate of the organization’s debts hasn’t helped. Nor has the fact that everyone seems to want vendors to be paid, thus removing a very ugly public remnant of this failure, but no one wants to take responsibility.

Further exacerbating the conflict is the mix of public and private funds, and the now fully exposed lack of public accountability. No list of bilked vendors has been produced, not even a summary by industry or geography. It’s an unsatisfying stalemate, which leaves the public no recourse beyond the next local election.

All of this, of course, has been conversation fodder at local diners and in various boardrooms throughout the Corridor. Confidence has been shaken and other “reach higher” community thinking has been stifled.

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Without a doubt, there must be a full public accounting. We not only owe it to the local, regional and national vendors who acted in good faith, but we owe it to each other. But that, alone, isn’t enough.

Losing $2.3 million is a gut punch, but losing the next decade or more to fearful inaction is a death blow.

Even while confronting this one, massive failure, our community must reclaim the strength and resiliency needed to aim for the moon.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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