Letter from Mike Schuler regarding 8/24 Town Hall
I was introduced to Steve McBride earlier this week. After hearing reports about a dispute between the Red Flannel Festival Board and Cedar Springs City Council he stuck his head in the middle of small town storm. For over 70 years the two parties worked together to host a Festival celebrating “red flannel” underwear. One thing led to another and now the two were arguing about the trademark, permits, and fees. Steve asked that I help facilitate a Town Hall meeting to help settle the dispute and allow citizens to air feelings.
In spending time with each party Steve and I realized the heated nature of this dispute is rooted in enmeshed relationships which are playing out in of all places, Facebook. Here, citizens and users of social networking are taking snippets of conversations and sound bites from media, coupled with historical accusations to leverage their own perspective. Both parties cited the cheap shots and inaccuracies of the public debate which is fodder for more of the same. The issues are personally debilitating because of the long history people have with one another. Members of the Festival Board and City have gone to high school together, kids have grown up together, and they’ve had good relationships with one another because “… we all know each other”. Now, for a myriad of reasons (namely a trademark issue) the two sides are at odds and the community is torn, and people are wondering about the future of the Festival and the identity of Cedar Springs.
From the Festival Board’s standpoint, “We feel the trademark issue has been resolved and look forward to fostering a flexible, reasonable and accommodating environment which will fertilize the roots of this tradition by working with the businesses and community.” The City has something similar to say: “Aside from logos being removed from City property the community won’t see much different… we’ll remain supportive of the Festival Board and consider the Red Flannel Festival a part of our hometown pride.” explained Mayor Pro tem Christine Fahl. She continued, “Just in the last two days we have worked with the Festival Board to insure that the City (through the Cedar Springs Public Library) will continue to sell Queen Pageant Tickets and promote the “Read to Ride” program for the children of the community. In fact, the two sides are working together to host a fantastic Festival this year. “The Festival volunteers need to focus on this year’s Festival, there are only 44 days remaining”, a board member commented. The City agrees.
In fact, the Red Flannel Festival was never in question – this October you can bring your family to Cedar Springs and expect a parade, a queen, great food, and bed races! You will see “red flannels” all over the city streets and the citizens can celebrate the logging tradition and underwear as it has for over 70 years.
Yes, issues remain and will always need to be discussed. No one has an unlimited budget and both have to work together to ensure the Red Flannel Festival continues for another 70 years. Steve has put into focus the necessity of working issues out before they go to this public space on Facebook. We are not citizens of the Middle East trying to force a regime change toward democracy. We have a democracy and if citizens have an issue with how the elected officials have handled public money then there are vehicles to have questions addressed. Namely, talk to Charlie Watson (616-437-9839) or Christine Fahl (616-262-8693) or stop by City Hall anytime. Similarly, if citizens don’t like how the volunteer Festival Board has handled the trademark issue, stop by the office at 21 Maple in Cedar Springs or give them a call (616-696-2662) – they’re always looking for volunteers, too! My experience is that both groups have hard working people dedicated to the Red Flannel Festival. Yet, actually talking and listening to someone is a more cumbersome vehicle to express citizen concern. People would actually have to pick up the phone or go to a meeting and listen to the facts in their entirety. It takes about seven seconds to lob a bomb online – but what has that done for the people of Cedar Springs?
In fact, both the City and the Festival Board are working (likely at this very moment) to host a great Red Flannel Festival come October 6th. They could use a hand. So take some of that “energy” from the sideline and dig in to make it better – just like Steve did, saying, “After reflecting on the meetings with the City and Festival Board I’m now more hopeful that we can begin to heal and work toward a great Red Flannel Festival.”
While both the City Council and Festival Board were willing to participate in a Town Hall meeting this Friday, the logistics of facilitating such a meeting was proving too complex to figure out in this short time. Steve has done what a Town Hall was intended to do; get the two sides back on track and working together to have a great Festival. There won’t be a Town Hall meeting this Friday. Instead let’s all go to the Football game and get ready for the 73rd Red Flannel Festival this October 6, 2012.
Mike Schuler, Ph.D.