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COLUMN: Time for an end to the chummy Hyack club
Hyack Festival Association is not operating in the best interest of the city and its residents.
This week, Douglas Smith left his job as executive director, for the second time in as many months, because Hyack failed to sort out its internal issues.
Those being the fact that the president and two other executives on the board who hounded Smith out of a job needed to quit.
But they’re fighting it. And the question is, for what purpose?
Hyack hasn’t operated well for many years. Ask any major organization in New West, and most folks in City Hall too, and they’ll tell you Hyack is a misfit.
It’s a chummy old-boys club, in need of a complete overhaul.
If Hyack had any allies a few months ago, it’s almost alone now.
The few people who supported Smith’s dismissal did nothing more than shoot the ailing Hyack horse just as it might finally pull itself out of the mud.
Why did they fire Smith?
A big part of it comes down to the fact that Smith questioned the exclusivity tied to the Hyack brand, an elitism enjoyed by a select group of people.
When Hyack got its start over 40 years ago, it was no doubt a well-run, effective organization. Each year since, it has had a president who has gone on to become a past-president, an honorary role that never expires. Many of these folks come out to parades and events here in New West and many still travel to the events in Washington state and get wined and dined as VIPs and sport their red jackets.
Over the years this group has grown. They have no defined role, but they exert enormous influence on the organization.
And when Smith questioned the wisdom of spending taxpayer dollars to send the Hyack float to small-town U.S. so this exclusive club could continue schmoozing as “representatives” of New Westminster, the knives came out. Bye bye Douglas.
Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what Hyack is for?
Smith said Hyack’s job should be to focus its energy on top-notch, inclusive festival offerings that not only thrill New West residents, but draw people from neighbouring cities.
Not Leavenworth. We’re talking Burnaby, Coquitlam.
A classic example of the past-president influence on Hyack was an email that found its way into my inbox this week.
In the recent turmoil, the Hyack board of directors had voted to suspend the rest of the year’s U.S. visits.
The email from a recent past-president asks people to make donations so that Hyack can send the float to Leavenworth and Issaquah to “fulfill our commitment to Northwest Festival Hosting.”
Who’s in charge? At Hyack, the tail is wagging the dog.
And frankly, it’s reached a point where the organization will cease to exist if saner heads don’t prevail.
Past presidents shouldn’t be calling the shots. Even board members need to back off.
In a properly run, staffed non profit, the executive director runs the show, and reports to the board.
Ask people in the know what they think about Hyack and they refer to its old-boys-club nature. Its tired event lineup. The lack of professionalism (see: tail/dog).
Smith came to Hyack and said let’s make this a professional event organization. Let’s define our roles. Let’s open the books to the city, our primary funder. Let’s redefine what we are.
Recently, current president Gavin Palmer raised concerns about respecting history and the past as Hyack moves forward.
That’s a red herring.
There will always be May Day, there will always be the Anvil Battery Salute.
But there may not always be chummy, red-jacket fun in Astoria.
And that’s a day I look forward to.
• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.