The Stillwater City Council’s discussion Tuesday night was a dud.
With a very limited discussion, the Council unanimously decided to suspend the contracts for and the until a criminal investigation is complete.
The vote leaves the future of Stillwater’s two largest summer festivals and the in question.
It also lets the city off the hook for a $40,000 fireworks payment that was due to be made to the Lumberjack Days Festival Association by the end of the year.
Stillwater City Attorney Dave Magnuson discouraged any further discussion about the future of the events until the .
“Without all the information it is kind of like sailing in unchartered waters,” Magnuson said. “And if you do that, you run the chance of running aground.”
Police have forwarded part of their investigation to the Washington County Attorney for review. No charges have been filed.
The future of the events will be discussed in an open forum once the investigation is complete, Magnuson said.
In addition to the pending criminal investigation, city records show that St. Croix Events currently owes the city of Stillwater $7,542 for public safety services provided during the Stillwater Marathon in 2010 and 2011.
The production company also owes the city another $20,000 for police and fire services for last year’s Lumberjack Days Festival, which is due on Dec. 31; and 35 percent of all gate receipts from last year's event.
“There is a number of questions surrounding the finances of the festival and this is just a way of standing down until the county attorney has time to go through his process,” Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki said after the meeting. “This allows us to back away a little bit and let the legal process play its course.”
Several residents who showed up for the “fireworks” Tuesday night expressed disappointment that there wasn’t more discussion about the festival.
One resident, Brent Johnson, told the Pioneer Press he “thinks the city is getting played.”
Jeff Johnson, who lives in the South Hill neighborhood, said Lumberjack Days has simply gotten out of hand.
“It’s not for the local community anymore,” Johnson said. “It’s about bigger bands, bigger advertisements to people throughout the greater Twin Cities—and all of it has been for financial gain without regard for the community.
“Civic organizations have come down to help Eckberg out for a donation, and he hasn’t made good on it,” Johnson continued. “Historically, he’s well known for those kind of shenanigans. His track record is long. How does the city of Stillwater not check into it a little bit more, take a prepayment or an escrow up front? They have a contract that doesn’t even have any payment due dates in it. It’s ridiculous.”
As a taxpayer in an economic time of budget cuts, Johnson said, the city is throwing money at something many of residents don’t want in the first place.
“It’s kind of a double-poke,” he said. “We’re cutting back on parks and the library to save a few thousand dollars and then we have $40,000 going out the window on the other side.”