Gordon Good Neighbor Days left leaderless
The volunteer committee resigned over financial and procedural concerns.
GORDON — Members of the Gordon Good Neighbor Days committee resigned en masse Aug. 16 during a Gordon Town Board meeting. The group, a subcommittee of the board, turned over keys, shirts — even the instructions to the Gordon Good Neighbor Days Facebook page .
Committee treasurer Joy Rogers submitted a letter to the board asking for a restructuring and reorganization of how the event is funded, managed, overseen and documented. She also requested the town perform an audit on finances and contracts surrounding the annual event, which brings thousands of people to the town each summer.
Brian Finstad, of Superior, who attended the meeting for a different agenda item, said his jaw dropped.
“I was surprised. I’ve been on the committee. I know how much work it is,” he said. “And it’s been going on since 1960. I mean, I don’t know if it’s going to happen next year. And that’s the most disturbing part of it.”
It started with fireworks. Gordon Good Neighbor Days is held the weekend closest to the Fourth of July, with fireworks capping off the Saturday festivities at dusk. This year, that fell on July 2. But the fireworks contract, and the insurance to cover it, were set for July 4 instead.
Rogers said the committee members don’t sign the fireworks contract — the town clerk does. With the crowd gathered and the band playing, volunteers who put on the event found out Saturday night the fireworks wouldn’t be taking place.
“We announced that there’s not going to be fireworks. We had people coming up and cussing out our volunteers,” Rogers said.
They encouraged the crowd to travel to Solon Springs for that community’s fireworks display, then spent 24 hours preparing for a redo July 4, extending porta-potty leases, lining up food and music, bartenders and emergency responders.
“The volunteers put their heart and soul into it. We’ve all volunteered for something and when something like that happens, I mean, mistakes happen, but obviously, they took the brunt of it,” said Craig Golembiewski Jr., the only Gordon town official who responded to the Telegram's calls.
Noticing the total amount paid for the fireworks was lower than it had been in past, Rogers contacted the provider. She was told the annual fireworks budget for 2015 was $20,000. That dipped to $18,500 from 2016 to 2019 and down to $15,000 in 2021 and 2022, Rogers said, something committee members were not told about or given a voice in.
The group asked for financial information and to meet with the town board. Rogers said town clerk Stephanie James provided her with conflicting financial reports that lacked itemization and clarity. There was no sense of urgency from the board, Rogers said, and no apology.
At the meeting, which took place Aug. 4, she said committee members learned that there was no separate account for Gordon Good Neighbor Days, and that the funds they raised don’t accrue for future events.
“That money at the end of the year doesn’t go back to us, it goes back into the town’s general bank account. That was complete news to all of us,” Rogers said.
The town provides a starting budget of $10,000 to the committee each year, she said, and the volunteers are responsible for raising the rest. They thought they were building up any surplus to make the event self-sustaining.
Golembiewski joined the town board in April 2021. “I’m just kind of learning how they have been handled in the past, and who’s been handling them, the history behind it all. So it’s been pretty eye opening,” he said.
Following the Aug. 4 meeting, with no changes being offered, the volunteers resigned.
“We were patient and we sat down and had a discussion and brought our questions and we were not given answers. And you can’t run an event that size that so many people depend on with so many unknowns. You just can’t do it,” Rogers said.
At the Aug. 16 meeting, Finstad said, the board had no discussion following the resignation. They went on to the next item on the agenda, the road report.
Golembiewski said he’d like to put the issue on a future town board agenda to figure out how the community can move forward with its signature event.
“That’s part of Gordon’s identity, for sure,” Golembiewski said of Good Neighbor Days.
The town board will start working on the budget in October, he said, and it would be good to figure out how to move forward before that. He expressed hope that the town could bounce back.
“The people that were on the committee were doing an excellent job, from what I’ve been hearing from the people who participated,” Golembiewski said. “So having some conversations with them on how they would like to see things handled as well would be good.”
Rogers had some ideas, including creating a separate account for the committee, requiring dual signatures on contracts and having town board members attend meetings.
Golembiewski said community members should watch the town website and Gordon Good Neighbor Days Facebook page for information about volunteer opportunities on the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Gordon Good Neighbor Days Committee.
"I would just ask people to ask questions. It’s a big event that involves not just our community, our entire region, and for you know it to be handled correctly and to move forward, there are definitely a lot of questions that need to be answered," Rogers said.
Volunteers traditionally start meeting and setting up sponsors for the summer event in January. The September golf scramble fundraiser the group holds annually will not take place this year.