WICKER PARK — Presidents of five neighborhood groups have come together to ask that festivals in their areas present their financial information publicly and include the local groups more in fest planning.
"The overarching problem we have is the lack of transparency," said Steve Jensen, president of the Bucktown Community Organization.
He, along with the presidents of the Wicker Park Committee, Chicago Grand Neighbors Association, Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association and the East Village Association, drafted a letter demanding various fests hand over their books.
Emily Morris describes the concerns that some neighborhood associations have with festivals:
Leah Root, president of the Wicker Park Committee, hopes that by uniting as a coalition, the groups can encourage festival organizers to establish a more uniform standard of accountability.
"The community groups have realized this is an issue among all of our neighborhoods," she said.
Because the festivals use public streets, they should make their statements available, Jensen said.
"If these festivals are on the up and up, they’ve got nothing to hide, and therefore delivering this information should be effortless," Jensen said.
The letter, first reported by Our Urban Times, also asks for the festivals to take "the responsibility to make sure any community organizations or non-profits receiving funds [or donations] are legitimate and are using proceeds as stated to go back into the neighborhood on a timely basis."
Jensen said there are questions in the community about how festival profits are distributed. "We’d like to see a giant spotlight on those numbers," he said.
He added: "We don’t want to deal with rumors and speculation. We would rather the entities involved produce the information."
Summer festivals that fall within the neighborhoods and are named in the letter include Wicker Park Fest, Green Music Fest, Do-Division Street Fest, West Fest, Fashion Fest and Design Harvest.
Many are organized by the local chambers of commerce along with a number of private event promoters.
Adam Burck, executive director of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, said he provided the Wicker Park group a summary budget of the fest.
"I don't know why they're expecting more," he said.
But Root said she and members of the committee wanted to see a more detailed breakdown of where the money goes. She hopes the chambers will post the information publicly online.
"A lot of inquiring people in the neighborhood want to hear this," Root said.
The West Town chamber said it regularly provides information on its festival.
"We have no problem with transparency and sharing information," said Kara Salgado, executive director of the West Town Chamber of Commerce. "If these items are requested, we can provide them."
Salgado said she met with Steve Niketopoulos, president of the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association, on Tuesday morning and shared with him the festival budget reports, security plans and other documents related to the fest.
Niketopoulos said Salgado was "fantastic" in sharing information with him.
But Jensen said that he and the other neighborhood groups haven't seen the chamber's plans and didn't yet call it a victory.
The letter also asks the fests to include "neighborhood groups in each festival’s logistics, safety & police plans in a timely fashion so they can have input and inform residents of what to expect."
"We all love these festivals," Niketopoulos said. "It's just how do the festivals treat the neighborhoods. Do they try to work to respect the community organizations?"
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) supports the goal of the neighborhood groups, according to his office.
"We support the festival organizers releasing their financial information," Matt Bailey, a spokesman for Moreno, said. "We also support all the chambers of commerce and all the neighborhood groups providing financial information to the general public. In the interest of transparency, of course, we support it."
Jensen said that although his organization is not required to release its financials publicly, if someone requests their release, "We’ll gladly do so."
According to Niketopoulos and Jensen, this is just the first of many issues the newly formed coalition plans to tackle in the future.