City turns down Energetic County Fair requests, staff directed to speak with organizer

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Council has directed staff to work with the Energetic County Fair organizer to figure ou…

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Council has directed staff to work with the Energetic County Fair organizer to figure out how the city can support the event, despite turning down the request to sponsor and host the event in Centennial Park.

During a January 25th council meeting, Energetic Productions Inc. owner Dale Plourde presented council with plans for an annual festival in Fort St. John, the Energetic County Fair. Plourde asked for a five-year commitment from the city to use Centennial Park between July 14th to 16th starting this year and to become a presenting sponsor worth $55,000.

Council declined Plourde’s request to host the event at Centennial Park and sponsor the event due to many factors on Monday. However, staff has been directed to meet with Plourde to facilitate the fair within the region and come back to council with a report on the findings.

Plourde’s vision is to showcase local musicians, First Nation and cultural art, diverse food, and bring the community together for a good time.

The initial plan for the event is to have two stages featuring 20 performances to spotlight local performers and bring in some well-known faces such as Randy Bachmann and Grammy award winner Ricky Skaggs.

The main concern for staff was the potential damage from having a large crowd on the park lawn over the two-day event.

“Centennial Park was designed to serve the entire community, and if there was significant damage to the lawn, it would take time to have it repaired and could prevent citizens and staff from planning and using the Park for a further week post event,” said the director of community services, Karin Carlson, in the February 14th report to council.

Plourde’s “aggressive” timeline will also have impacts on other events, including Canada Day, and there is limited staff and capacity to meet the 2022 deadline, staff identified.

Carlson notes that the festival can generate economic activity in the city, but the event would also have financial impacts. These include overtime hours for RCMP and staff, remediation costs, the requested $55,000 that the city did not budget for.

The event would also require the park to be fenced off and access between the museum and park to be closed for two days. The fire department does not support the closure as the road is one of the main fire access routes to the Pomeroy Sport Centre and the only fire access to the museum.

There are also several outstanding documents required from Plourde to make the event a reality, wrote Carlson.

Staff also obtained a legal opinion to see if the city’s potential support would go against the Community Charter. With no known benefit to the city, its contribution would be a donation essentially, which could be challenged as “assistance” under the charter, which is prohibited.

The legal opinion states, “When the courts consider the question of whether a particular business arrangement may be prohibited “assistance”, consideration is given to the context of the arrangement in its entirety, and not by focusing on one isolated aspect of the arrangement.

For example, in the Nelson Citizen’s Coalition v. Nelson (City) in 1997, the Court found that there were economic development and policy rationales that justified assistance to a business where both the municipality and business received benefits such that they offset each other.”

Plourde followed suit and got a legal opinion of his own. His lawyer sent a letter to council, stating “the analysis of the legal advice received or the advice itself are manifestly flawed in many aspects”.

On Monday, mayor and council expressed interest in supporting Plourde’s the best they could while supporting their lawyer’s interpretation of the charter, as well as following the city’s bylaws and policies.

Mayor Lori Ackerman noted her frustration with Plourde getting a lawyer involved.

“It’s unfortunate that we got a letter from a lawyer before this even came to council. Because my way of doing business as I wouldn’t even have brought this to the table. I would have said take it back. Our lawyer speaks to his lawyer,” said Ackerman.

Taking the letter out of the equation and agreeing with staff recommendations, Councillor Trevor Bolin still believes the city should work with Plourde to try and get the event off the ground.

View the report to council below:

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