After two years of trying, contract negotiations have broken down between the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Payson Pro Rodeo Committee, severing the committee's ties to the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo for the first time in five decades.
The board of directors for the chamber presented the committee board with a contract more than two years ago, Chamber President Bryan Siverson said.
The committee board negotiated a number of revisions to the contract, but never signed, Chamber Chief Executive Officer Tom Kaleta said. When committee board members indicated their concerns had been satisfied and the contract was acceptable, the chamber sent the 15-member committee board a certified letter asking for a signed contract by Sept. 29, he said.
A few days before the deadline, officials from both sides met, Kaleta said. During the meeting, longtime rodeo boss and committee board member Bill Armstrong and committee board members Chuck Jackman and Mike McDonald said the contract was good to go, he said.
"We thought we were done," the chamber chief said. "A couple of days later, I got a certified letter saying 'we want more changes.'"
The chamber received the committee's letter requesting additional changes on or after the chamber's contract deadline, he said.
All 15 rodeo committee board members declined to comment this week.
During the chamber's October board meeting, 10 of the board's 11 members voted to end the chamber's association with the rodeo committee, a corps of volunteers that has provided labor and expertise for nearly 50 years to produce Payson's August rodeo.
"We had to put a deadline on it and their board decided not to sign the contract," Siverson said. "I personally hated to see this."
Chamber board member Randy Roberson, who was not present for the vote, resigned Thursday because of the board's decision.
"I feel that the chamber board is making a grave mistake in that it is easy to only look at the business aspects of putting on a rodeo and completely neglect the heritage and history that have brought the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo to be what it is today," he said. "It is my opinion that they have stopped looking at that."
The contract under negotiation spelled out the jobs the committee would be responsible for, stated that the chamber would pay the committee $5,000 for its services and made it clear that all financial responsibility for producing the event would fall to the chamber, the chamber president said.
"It obligated them to produce a rodeo, to do the actual production of the rodeo," Siverson said.
"We actually paid them to put on the service, but they never had a contract."
It costs the chamber more than $60,000 to put on the August rodeo, he said, and it can bring in up to $25,000. For eight years, the committee's fee was $3,500, he said. In 1999, it was upped to $5,000 in anticipation of a signed contract, he said. The contract also made it clear that the chamber would have final approval on all financial arrangements, Siverson said.
"They wanted to continue to talk, but after two years of negotiations we had to put a deadline on it," he said. "Their board decided not to sign it. We are trying to protect the rodeo and, of course, the chamber."
But Roberson said he thinks protecting 115 years of community history and heritage should be the first order of business.
"The rodeo does not only belong to the chamber of commerce, it belongs to the people of Payson and their ancestors. Any other focus does nothing but thumb its nose at what has kept (this rodeo) alive for over 100 years," he wrote in his letter of resignation.
The chamber has owned the rights to the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo since the Jaycees gave it up in the early '70s.
A volunteer rodeo committee has helped produce the rodeo since the early 1950s.
The Payson Pro Rodeo Committee, which has been incorporated since 1985 and a nonprofit corporation since 1989, owns the rights to the Gary Hardt Memorial Rodeo, which is produced in the spring.
Kaleta said he's not worried about a possible competition between the two rodeos.
"If the spring rodeo gets bigger and better, all the better for Payson," he said.
This was the first contract attempt between the two boards. Without a contractual agreement, Kaleta said, the committee held no real obligation to the chamber.
"If they were to walk out a week or two days before (the rodeo), we would have no recourse," he said.
The Chamber is now considering its options, Kaleta said, which include hiring another organization to produce the rodeo and re-opening talks with the committee.
"Never say never," he said.