Chamber, Committee Rodeo Split Deepens

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The Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Payson Pro Rodeo Committee may have worked on their last rodeo as a team.


Although representatives from both sides said last month that the two groups might be able to resolve a contract dispute that severed the committee's 40-year tie with Payson's August rodeo, the chamber, which owns the rights to the rodeo, is moving in another direction.


"Basically we are looking at starting a rodeo committee from scratch," Bryan Siverson, president of the chamber board, said.


Anyone who has worked on the rodeo before is welcome to join, he said.


But chances are slim that members of the Pro Rodeo Committee will also serve on the chamber's committee, longtime rodeo boss Bill Armstrong said.


"How can a town the size of Payson support two rodeo committees," Armstrong, the committee's board president, asked. "I believe the ones that have worked all these years for the chamber for little to nothing will refuse to work for the chamber's committee."


For now, the two boards are going their separate ways.


The Payson Pro Rodeo Committee has focused its attention on its own rodeo, the Gary Hardt Memorial Rodeo, which is held each spring, Armstrong said.


The dispute between the chamber and the committee over the August rodeo developed during negotiations for the first working rodeo contract between the two groups.


Throughout the 115-year history of the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo, local volunteers have produced the event with little more than a handshake to seal the deal. As both boards prepared to move the rodeo into the new millennium, they agreed that a signed contract should replace that handshake.


The chamber drafted the first contract for the two groups before the 1998 August rodeo, and negotiations have been tenuous ever since, representatives on both sides said.


Two rodeos have been produced without signed contracts since the chamber made its first proposal.


On Sept. 15, two days after the chamber received a demand-for-payment letter from the committee's attorney, Arthur Lloyd, the chamber board sent a final draft of the contract to the committee board with a letter asking the committee to sign it by Sept. 29.


In a Sept. 28 letter to the chamber, the committee said it was unable to sign the contract by the deadline and asked for a meeting of both boards to discuss the contract. During the two years of negotiations between the two groups, that type of meeting had never taken place, Siverson said.


When the committee failed to sign the contract, the chamber board voted Oct. 12 to end its association with the committee.


"The board did not have any interest in sitting down with the committee," Siverson said. "It all boils down to the letter from the attorney.


"If we have to communicate through our attorneys, what kind of relationship do we have," he asked.


The committee board members thought they had a verbal agreement with the chamber board to receive $5,000 for the more than 2,200 hours members spent producing the 115th World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo, Armstrong said.


"We were suppose to get the money within five days after the rodeo," he said. "We hadn't gotten any money in three weeks and the board instructed Mike (McDonald, committee treasurer) to send a letter asking for our money."


The chamber sent a $3,500 payment to the committee with its Sept. 15 deadline letter.


"It was our intent to pay $5,000," Siverson said. "If they had signed the contract by the deadline, we would have paid them the other $1,500."


In addition to spelling out how much money the committee would receive for each rodeo, the contract detailed the jobs the committee would be responsible for and placed all the financial responsibility for producing the show on the chamber, Siverson said.


But the committee's lawyer told the board that it was a one-sided contract, McDonald said.


The contract gave the chamber two weeks to end the relationship between the two groups, but the committee was required to give 90-days' notice to end the contract, he said.


"If we get everybody geared up and do all the leg work throughout the year, and they boot us out two weeks prior to the rodeo, then what do we do," Chuck Jackman, a committee board member, asked.


The contract also made the committee liable for accidents and injuries involving the public.


"If somebody fell out of the stands, we'd be responsible," Jim Barrett, a committee board member said.


Armstrong said the committee thought the problems with the contract could be resolved, but negotiations fell apart when the two groups started sending letters to each other.


Eventually, the struggle between the two groups to come to a contractual agreement cut the committee's historical ties to the August rodeo. The Payson Pro Rodeo Committee has worked on the rodeo since the early 1950s, and the committee incorporated in 1985. The chamber has owned the rights to the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo since the Junior Chamber of Commerce turned it over to the chamber in the early 1970s.


But despite the deadlock, some committee members are hopeful that a meeting of both boards can still happen.


"We have high hopes of being able to work out our differences," McDonald said. "It's a long way to August."

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