BUTTE — Organizers of Evel Knievel Days cut ties with the event Wednesday, saying Chief Executive Matt Vincent and the Knievel family should proceed with the festival as they see fit.
Vincent told Butte-Silver Bow commissioners later Wednesday the drama and controversy “has gone on long enough” and he was not sure what conclusion to draw from the letter. But he said the issue is “small potatoes” in the scheme of things facing local government.
“I hoped that level heads would prevail in resolving the issues and that obviously has not happened,” he said, reading a letter he had written prior to the meeting.
He also said the issue had become a “media circus” created by a few members of the Evel Days committee and his brother-in-law, Kelly Knievel, the eldest son of the late daredevil from Butte.
Chad Harrington, executive director of the Evel Knievel Days, confirmed Wednesday night what seemed clear in the letter – that the group was ending its association with the festival.
He said Vincent and the Knievel family made their wishes clear “and we will just remove ourselves from the equation.”
In his letter to Vincent with copies addressed to commissioners, Harrington said the group made the decision Tuesday night.
“Our committee, by no means, wants to hinder or impede the direction that your family would like to go with Evel Knievel Days and the Evel Knievel name,” the letter said. “It is also imperative that we all get back to a level of respect and civility for the citizens of Butte-Silver Bow.
“Therefore, the organizing committee of Evel Knievel Week, Inc. has decided to respect your wishes and take a step back from this event and allow you to proceed as you see fit.”
The event has been embroiled in disputes in recent weeks that already had cast doubt on the direction of the three-day festival in July and whether it can be held this year. Butte-Silver Bow partially subsidizes the event with tax dollars and other public money.
At the same time Kelly Knievel insisted on a new licensing agreement to use his father’s name in connection with the event, and the county demanded Evel Days sign a new operating agreement detailing obligations and responsibilities each side brings to the festival.
Kelly Knievel left expletive-laced voicemails with Harrington last week threatening to “destroy” him unless he signed the operating agreement with the county and followed other demands.
Vincent is married to Evel Knievel’s daughter, Alicia, which also makes him Kelly Knievel’s brother-in-law. Vincent has said his request for a new agreement with Evel Days is only to ensure accountability and stability and similar pacts will be sought with other tax-supported festivals.
He said that again Wednesday night and said any of his actions are based solely on seeking the best interests of Butte-Silver Bow.
“My only conflict is if I don’t hold this festival to the same accountability with Butte-Silver Bow” as the other festivals, he said, and “we owe it to the public” to do that.
He said no member of the Knievel family has made money from the festival being staged, that it is purely a gift to the community. An overseas city offered to pay Kelly Knievel $100,000 to hold the event instead, Vincent said.
But, he said, “This has and will continue to be a gift.”
Kelly Knievel announced Monday that he and his family are pursuing formation of another nonprofit Montana corporation to lead the event. He also withdrew a request that the county sign a licensing agreement to use the Evel Knievel name.
Harrington and Jim Dick, another member of the committee, both had raised questions on whether Vincent’s ties to the Knievel family are behind the recent events and said his involvement is a conflict of interest.
The Evel Days group says Vincent should proceed without individualized agreements with all the festivals, saying they would create “another level of government oversight.”
The letter said there already is an operating agreement with the festivals and Evel Days has provided a full accounting of its cash flows.
Harrington said he has enjoyed his time on the organizing committee and has enjoyed watching the event grow and become a “needed and reliable source of tourist income for many valued businesses in our community.”
“It also has been rewarding to watch the children and families of our community enjoy a weekend of summer fun in Butte,” the letter said.
It said the committee – as a 501(c)(3) entity – has some resources available for this year’s festival.
“As we transition out of this event, we look forward to investing those resources into something, to be determined at a later date, that will provide a positive impact for the wonderful city in which we reside,” it said.