Festival review panel eyes financial procedure change

Festival review panel eyes financial procedure changeMERIDEN � A committee of local businessmen and professionals selected to review the operation of the Daffodil Festival has made 17 recommendations to event organizers about how to improve internal festival operations, but members of the festival committee Tuesday night put off voting on a resolution to adopt them.

The recommendations focus on the financial and legal procedures of the committee and are laid out in a 14-page report prepared by Daffodil Festival Review Committee Chairman Lawrence M. McGoldrick, the president and CEO of Castle Bank and Trust Co.

McGoldrick agreed to head the body after a Record-Journal investigation last year revealed inadequacies in how the festival�s finances were handled.

McGoldrick and other members of the review committee met with Daffodil Festival Committee members and Chairman Mark G. Zebora on Tuesday night to discuss the report. The meeting was cordial, even convivial, but members had relatively few comments on the 14-page document. Some of the recommendations are to have the committee make festival financial information available to the public and all sponsors, and to hire an independent auditor who will be present at the festival.

"Although many civic minded organizations operate without establishing a corporate identity," the report states, "we recommend strongly that the organization Festivals of Meriden establish itself legally as a non-stock corporation under State law."
Also, "The current bylaws of Festivals of Meriden should be reviewed, updated, approved and utilized to clearly define the organization and its subdivisions. The organization should retain qualified legal counsel to insure that it is meeting its responsibilities as a corporate entity, including required legal filings with the City and State of CT."

McGoldrick told festival committee members that "One key request we really feel is very, very important is to start looking to the future strategically, as to how this wonderful event can carry on five years, ten years" down the road.

"The Festival�s successful growth in size and complexity has been due to the unique and effective combination of City resources and an enormous amount of volunteer creativity, dedication and simple hard work," the report states. "Year after year a group of dedicated individuals re-form as the Daffodil Festival Committee to provide the nucleus directing the extraordinary effort it takes to make the Daffodil Festival successful. Added to this group is an extended �family� of some 230 volunteers from the community.

"Leading this army of volunteers for many years and providing a critical ingredient in creating this successful public-private partnership is Mark Zebora. His dual roles are critical and unique. His personal management and people skills organize the hundreds of volunteers as well as the dozens of vendors and organizations that participate in the Festival. In his public position, Mr. Zebora can coordinate and draw on City resources needed to prepare Hubbard Park for the event and to clean up after."

The report goes on to observe that Zebora�s "dual role as Chairman of the Festival and as Director of Parks and Public Works is unique and probably cannot be duplicated in the future. As with the Committee, it is time that thought be given to how Mark�s role will be filled in the future. This is critical and should be a joint discussion between the Committee and the City."

Acting Police Chief Jeffry Cossette pulled double duty, as a member of both the review committee and the festival committee itself. He told festival committee members he agreed with McGoldrick that planning the festival for the long term was something that needed to be done.

"The big thing is the future of the festival," Cossette said. "I think we need to have a contingency plan in place for the future."

In a draft plan of action circulated by Zebora, the committee will hire an accountant and an attorney, as suggested by the review committee, and allow all pertinent records � including financial information � to be reviewed by sponsors and the public. They will meet with city officials to discuss long-range plans for the festival, and come up with a succession plan for how the committee can operate the festival once Zebora is no longer chairman.

The festival committee will review its bylaws later this year and give presentations to the City Council regarding the planning of the event. It will also have the volunteers covered by city insurance policies, formalize an inventory system and continue to provide the city with information regarding the in-kind services it receives, if the plan is approved by festival committee members.

Zebora�s committee�s draft response states: "We further acknowledge that we are so focused on running a great quality event with continued unending diversity that we seldom and with little enthusiasm looked at our corporate and legal structure" and it thanked McGoldrick and his review committee "that took time from their busy schedules to make the Daffodil Festival better for Meriden."

Zebora asked committee members if they wanted to vote on the action plan Tuesday night, but members requested more time to review both the action plan and the report from the review committee.

The report said several issues uncovered in a Record-Journal investigation in February 2004 � including who counts the money, how it is counted, whether more tickets can go out than money is received and whether there is enough accountability in the financial aspect of the festival � should not be difficult to resolve.

"Cash is properly accounted for and the computer system that has been installed to account for ticket sales, income and expenses provides control of the accounting and reconciliation of these items," the report reads.

After the meeting, McGoldrick said he felt the new computer system Cossette introduced was beneficial to fixing accountability issues that were raised in the past. The system can keep track of tickets and make sure the amount of money brought in corresponds to the number of tickets that were sold, Cossette said. He also said only members of the committee that counts the money should be in that area, for security reasons.

"We have a secure area and certain people have access to it," Cossette said. "There would really be no reason for anyone not on the counting committee to be in that room."

Zebora and Cossette did not say who would be on the committee for the upcoming festival, but said they would go by recommendations made by the on-site auditor.

"What the auditor tells us to do, we�ll do," Zebora said.

PICTURED - Kevin Curry, left, consults with fellow review committee member Richard Carabetta Tuesday. (Chris French / Record-Journal)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

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