Over the past several months, the Holly Area Chamber of Commerce has endured everything from minor implications to out-and-out negative comments regarding its lack of support for Holly festivals, specifically the Carry Nation and Dickens festivals. The time has come, I believe, for the record to be set straight.
Although I am a member of the Holly Village Council, and serve as president of the Holly Area Chamber of Commerce, the following are the facts as I personally recall them. I am speaking on my own behalf, not that of the council or chamber board.
Let me say again, because I have said it often, that I am very pleased that so many newcomers have come forward to pick up the torch and support our festivals and volunteer their time for fundraising and planning activities so that these festivals may continue on for the enjoyment of Holly area residents and visitors alike. There is, however, some history that explains why things are the way they are now -- history that these individuals appear not to be aware of. And just to make anyone reading this aware, no one has ever approached the Holly Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors with any specific requests to sponsor festivals. If they had, this is the information they would have received.
During the Dickens Festival of December 2003, for whatever reason, the committee and merchants failed to raise the necessary funds to pay for the actors. At that time, Kim Scherman was the Chamber’s executive director and chair for the Dickens Festival Committee. When it came time to pay the actors, the festival was short $11,000. Tom McKenney, who was Chamber president at the time, signed for a loan at The State Bank so that the actors could get paid and hence, the Chamber now had a debt to pay – a debt that took until 2009 to pay off.
For the 2004 Dickens Festival, the Dickens Committee was asked to find another organization to be its sponsor and provide the insurance. Since this was always a “merchant event” (as I was repeatedly told by the downtown merchants) the festival moved under the umbrella of the DDA. The Chamber was a struggling organization and the $11,000 it took responsibility for was a large strain on the organization.
Kim Scherman was also very involved with the Carry Nation Festival, making sure funds were raised for the queen and her court, taking them to other festivals, etc. When Kim left in 2007 none of the other Chamber members were willing/able to take this on to the extent that Kim did. Therefore, this also was moved under the wings of the DDA.
In 2004 the Chamber started the Sights, Sounds and Taste of Holly, which is its major annual fundraiser. Neither the Dickens Festival nor the Carry Nation Festival were ever fundraisers for the Chamber, yet it was always expected to fund and provide volunteers for the events.
Admittedly, there is still some bitterness among those Chamber members who worked hard to make sure that a debt that they had nothing to do with got paid off. The Chamber is still struggling to make it a successful organization, yet the hurtful remarks regarding “lack of support” continue.
In addition to what I just mentioned, insurance costs were another reason the Chamber declined sponsorship. Depending on the activities involved, insuring the event could be as much as $1,500 or more. If there was an accident or other unfortunate event during the festival, the Chamber would be responsible for defending a lawsuit. According to IRS code, the Chamber is a nonprofit defined as a 501(c)(6), not a 501(c)(3), which would allow for the application of grants for these types of events. Neither the Carry Nation nor Dickens Festival fall under this category.
In previous correspondence, both Janet Leslie (who also wrote about this in her Holly Express column recently) and Katy Hughes, have mentioned the different festivals around the state that Chambers sponsor, i.e. the Traverse City Cherry Festival and Posen Potato Festival. Though in past years, chambers of commerce may have been in charge of all the festivals, that is changing now as they don’t fall into the guidelines of IRS code.
The Posen Potato Festival, which Ms. Leslie references in her column, charges visitors for the events and activities that take place. Further, according to additional public information found online, the Chamber of Commerce in that community reported earnings of about $20,000 from that festival last year.
The Holly Area Chamber of Commerce membership is made up of successful individuals whose expertise covers a vast variety of areas. We are willing to share that expertise with anyone who asks. What we are not willing to do is continue to be the brunt of accusations and negative comments by individuals, who although well-meaning, did not do their homework before making public their uninformed opinions.