Evel Days dispute: Festival organizers balk at proposed operating pact

2014-04-01T12:53:00Z 2014-04-22T11:17:06Z Evel Days dispute: Festival organizers balk at proposed operating pactBy MIKE SMITH Montana Standard The Billings Gazette
April 01, 2014 12:53 pm  • 

BUTTE — Kelley Knievel said other cities would be glad to host an Evel Knievel Days festival if Butte-Silver Bow declines to sign a license agreement for using his late father’s name in connection with the big event.

“I’m sure there are plenty of cities that would pay for the Evel Knievel Days,” he said. “I would rather keep it in Butte because that is where we are from, and we are giving it to the community of Butte for nothing.”

Meanwhile, some members of a group that has organized and produced the three-day bash in July for several years are balking at a proposed operating pact the county wants that outlines each party’s obligations for the event.

They say the document raises all sorts of questions on legalities and liabilities, and whether it’s spelled out or not, the county wants to run the event and essentially make longtime volunteers apply for positions.

“What am I going to have to do, hire an attorney to be a volunteer?” said Jim Dick, a member of the private, nonprofit Evel Knievel Days Organizing Committee.

Butte-Silver Bow Parks Director E. Jay Ellington, who was appointed by Chief Executive Matt Vincent as a new liaison to Butte’s festivals, said the county is only trying to bring more stability and accountability to all festivals that receive public money.

The county subsidizes several festivals and events with tax dollars and other public money, including mining trust funds and environmental lawsuit settlements.

Evel Days — a festival of stunts, jumps and feats named for Butte’s legendary daredevil Evel Knievel — has brought thousands of visitors and their money to Butte each summer since its inception in 2002. But it is now tangled in disputes over naming rights and management that cast doubt on its future.

Kelly Knievel, who owns the intellectual rights to the Evel Knievel name, said naming rights for Evel Days need to be renewed and that should be with the county, not the Evel Days group as in the past.

“The Evel Knievel brand is moving into major territory and things need to be according to Hoyle,” Knievel said Monday, using a phrase that means according to rules or how things are normally done.

“I am just confident that the city will make sure that everything is done according to Hoyle and the event can be the best it can be,” he said.

The proposed agreement he wants with the county through his venture K&K Promotions Inc. says Butte-Silver Bow could market and sell pre-approved merchandise bearing the name “Evel Knievel” with proceeds applied to event expenses.

It says Butte-Silver Bow, its volunteers and contractors agree to obtain insurance covering any liability arising from promotion, advertising, staging and activities during Evel Days.

It also says the licensee assures K&K that “management and administration” of Evel Days “shall be administered by BSB with assistance of community volunteers, city-county employees and its contractors.”

Jim Dick and Chad Harrington, executive director of the Evel Days committee, say their group has maintained that insurance in the past so the county could be taking on new liability.

They also say the county does not have the experience or expertise in screening and booking acts and other entertainment for such an event.

They said Ellington, when he told the group last week about upcoming changes, said he was there to “drain the swamp” and would do so no matter how many “gators” there were.

Harrington said that and statements about the need for accountability imply the committee mismanaged the event.

“That really offends me,” Harrington said. “We are extremely accountable.”

He and Dick say Vincent, the chief executive, has a conflict of interest in the matter because his wife, Alicia, is Evel Knievel’s daughter and Kelly Knievel’s sister.

Vincent said again Monday that his marriage and family ties have nothing to with him seeking greater accountability in this and all tax-supported festivals moving forward.

“That was one of my building principles of my administration, that we were going to have a higher level of accountability in all our county business,” he said.

Vincent said he will have nothing to do with any contract between the county and Kelly Knievel over naming rights because that would be a true conflict of interest. But it would also be a conflict if he treated Evel Days differently than other festivals going forward, he said.

Ellington said the proposed operating agreement with the Evel Days group does not necessarily mean the county will be taking on any insurance liabilities for the festivals, and they were not trying to pick volunteers or manage everything.

“We have had some discussions about having job descriptions for the volunteers but nothing says the county is the one who picks your volunteers,” Ellington said. “We just want a stronger organization for all the groups.”

Ellington said the county is not implying that the group mismanaged the event and there have not been discussions about that.

“We are not looking at past anything,” he said. “We are trying to move forward.”

When asked what would happen to this year’s event if the Evel Days group does not sign an agreement, Ellington said, “I guess we would figure out how to get it done. Hopefully other folks would help us.”

Cindi Shaw, chairwoman of the Council of Commissioners, said she had seen a copy of Knievel’s proposed licensing agreement but there has been no formal request that the commission take it up. She was reserving comment on its specifics until then, she said.

But she noted where the decision on such a contract will rest.

“I want to make it clear that by charter, the council of commissioners approves all contracts and agreements,” she said. “We have the final say.”

Commissioner Jim Fisher said he questions some provisions of the proposed naming-rights agreement and what obligations the county could assume. He also said he wants more information about K&K Promotions and their operations.

“I don’t think Butte-Silver Bow should be in the festival business,” he said.

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