Where will Cedar Rapids GO from here?

CBJ Editorial

Before the flood of 2008 there was a vocal segment of the Cedar Rapids community that former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett dubbed “the naysayers.” They were essentially against anything new or bold in Iowa’s second largest city.

Cedar Rapids is experiencing a significant fiasco involving its convention and visitor’s bureau, GO Cedar Rapids, and its bold, three-day newbo evolve festival that lost $2.3 million.

GO Cedar Rapids CEO Aaron McCreight was fired by the board of directors two weeks ago. On Aug. 9 the event’s creative director Scott Tallman was fired by Mr. McCreight.

Newbo evolve was expected to yield income of $3.24 million, but only made $1.48 million. The board was expecting a loss of $644,000, which it was willing to accept, not the actual $2.3 million loss.

The board and others in Cedar Rapids are trying to grasp how the event lost so much more than expected and why the board didn’t provide sufficient oversight to prevent such a fiasco.

If business and community leaders don’t come together to get this issue resolved, then we’re afraid the city could easily slide back into an era when naysayers control the agenda.

In the aftermath, the board, under the leadership of chair John Myers, who is also the executive director of the Indian Creek Nature Center, is doing the right thing by being as transparent as possible about what they have learned. They held a press conference where they shared details of the staggering loss. They communicated to community leaders and the media, and they intend to continue this by providing board minutes and as much information as possible to help the public understand just what happened.

“Information provided to the board during planning as well as up until days before the event regarding both ticket sales and sponsorship dollars raised were simply not accurate,” Mr. Myers said at the press conference. “We do not know if this was done intentionally or negligently.”

The GO Cedar Rapids board is an impressive group of seasoned bankers, attorneys, city officials, nonprofit leaders and community volunteers. At this point we are inclined to believe Mr. Myers and the board’s assessment that information provided by GO Cedar Rapids’ leadership was simply not accurate, although more investigation is needed.

Any board member of an organization shudders when events like this occur because they are often at the mercy of information provided by the CEO or executive director.

The easy thing for the board to do would have been to declare bankruptcy and have the board members offer their resignations. But that won’t fix the problem or lead to an important discussion that will allow the community to move on without stifling bold ideas and causing talented community leaders to rethink the idea of board service.

Before we vilify this board, let’s let them continue the process of transparency and see how the community can move on so that bold ideas aren’t stifled.