Staff Editorial

Questions, debts linger in newbo evolve's wake

Board chairman John Myers and board treasurer Seth Wear answer questions during a press conference at the GO Cedar Rapids office in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Myers will step in as chief executive until an interim CEO can be found, replacing former CEO Aaron McCreight. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Board chairman John Myers and board treasurer Seth Wear answer questions during a press conference at the GO Cedar Rapids office in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Myers will step in as chief executive until an interim CEO can be found, replacing former CEO Aaron McCreight. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

The good news is the Cedar Rapids community finally learned some details about the newbo evolve festival, organized by GO Cedar Rapids, the area’s tourism bureau.

The bad news is it’s worse than expected.

It was expected from the outset that planning and promoting such a unique event would generate a financial loss the first year. GO Cedar Rapids officials revealed this week the event lost a total of $2.3 million, more than the expected loss of about $640,000. Only about 600 three-day passes were sold, well short of the 4,000 goal. The organization now has an outstanding bank loan for $1.5 million, a $500,000 advance on city hotel-motel disbursements, and unpaid debts to festival vendors.

CEO Aaron McCreight and community events director Scott Tallman were dismissed, and GO Cedar Rapids board members took encouraging steps by divulging details during a news conference Tuesday. However, many questions remain about the festival and GO Cedar Rapids’ future. We strongly encourage board members to continue to operate in a spirit of openness and transparency.

The scope of newbo evolve raised concerns since its announcement early this year. It was scheduled the same weekend as the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago and the Hinterland music festival in Madison County. Many community members were highly skeptical of the $400 price tag on three-day passes. And while tickets to Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson concerts could be purchased without a pass, some complained about the inability otherwise to choose individual sessions.

In other words, newbo evolve’s struggles were apparent to some outsiders long before gates opened on Aug. 3. Therefore. we wonder how it also wasn’t clear to staff, the board of directors and others close to the organization.

Board members pinned the blame for the enormous financial loss on McCreight, saying organizational procedures were not followed and they received inaccurate information about ticket sales and sponsorships. These are serious claims that demand closer scrutiny.

When you accept public dollars — like GO Cedar Rapids’ annual allocation from the city’s hotel tax revenue — you also must agree to be accountable to the public.

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In the interest of transparency, GO Cedar Rapids leaders should welcome an independent audit of the organization’s finances and communications between the board and staff in the months before the festival. This is the only way to restore the public’s trust in the current board members’ ability to effectively oversee GO Cedar Rapids.

While this outcome is incredibly disappointing, we hope the details surrounding it can serve as a cautionary tale for community members who accept the responsibility of joining boards of directors, executive boards and other governing bodies. Such appointments are more than an accolade to be listed on a resume. Members must be engaged with their organizations, ask difficult questions and challenge the assumptions of paid staff members.

Despite the financial disaster surrounding newbo evolve, GO Cedar Rapids serves an important purpose. A community with our breadth of cultural and recreational offerings must have some entity devoted to promoting tourism. If there is a way to continue GO Cedar Rapids’ operations, pay its debts and restore financial stability — as board members this week vowed could happen — we will enthusiastically support their work.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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