The wresting of a contract to help run the rodeo from the Payson Pro Rodeo Committee smacks of politics, committee members and many of the roughly 15 people at a Thursday Citizens Awareness Committee meeting speculated.
“Politics are in there somewhere,” said rodeo committee member Ruth Klaver. “I think I know, but I won’t say.”
The meeting aired one side of a dispute about who will help run the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo, owned by the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Pro Rodeo Committee has handled many details of the event for years. Seeking to cut its financial losses and expand the event, the chamber initiated the formation of the Rodeo Preservation Alliance, according to chamber board members. Months of negotiation centered on reducing the money paid to the Pro Rodeo Committee for staging the event eventually broke down, leaving the committee out of the planning for this year’s rodeo.
Meeting attendees and members of the rodeo committee questioned money Payson has given to the chamber. Residents who attended the CAC meeting sought to draw a connection between that $37,000 and the chamber’s refusal of the committee’s offer to pay $10,000 annually for six years for the rights to the August Doin’s Rodeo.
Pro Rodeo Committee members who spoke wondered if the check Mayor Kenny Evans reportedly wrote to the Payson Rodeo Preservation Alliance, was a loan or a donation. The alliance used part of the money to register with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Klaver said.
“We would like to know,” she said, adding that she could justify a donation, but would question a loan. Klaver’s husband, Bob, said a loan would constitute a conflict of interest for the mayor.
Rodeo committee members also noted that alliance member Chuck Jackman used to sit on their committee, but left in 2000 unhappy. A meeting attendee noted that Jackman’s wife, Hallie, is developing a luxury condominium project on Main Street complete with a waterfall that Evans has supported. The connections portend political maneuvering, the attendee said.
The pain committee members felt was palpable — Rodeo Boss Bill Armstrong apologized when he first began speaking, saying, “I get choked up … I do this every time I talk.”
Members felt jilted by the chamber of commerce; tossed aside after decades of shepherding their beloved rodeo, raising money for local organizations, and continuing Payson’s oldest tradition.
“Our main goal was to make it credible and professional, and we’ve done it,” said Armstrong, who became rodeo boss around the 101st rodeo. This year will the 125th year of the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo. But the quasquicentennial marks the first fitful year in decades that the Pro Rodeo Committee will enjoy the event as bystanders.
The committee does own and operate the spring rodeo, which it will continue to do.
The committee and the chamber have long put on the August Doin’s rodeo, although the chamber owns the rights.
“We always had a working relationship with the chamber,” Armstrong said. “No one gets paid on the committee,” he added, and the money raised goes to scholarships, the Time Out Shelter and the wrestling team, among other places.
“If a kid needed shoes,” Armstrong said, “we made sure they were dressed.”
Despite a series of letters over several months, the committee’s proposal to buy rights to the name and take over operations or lease the event never gained traction.
Committee members said the chamber asked for an extension that the committee declined to give. Members also said the chamber’s board never voted on their proposal, and they questioned why the chamber’s decisions were postponed until after Chris Wolf became the chamber board president.
The chamber instead leased the production rights to the alliance, however, members said no paperwork has been signed as far as they know. The members of the alliance executive board include Meg Turlukis, Donna Kline, Dan Haapala, Farrell Hoosava and Cameron Davis, with Jackman serving as director.
A plan for the two groups to work together also evaporated because the alliance wanted the committee to manage the arena and security for less than the $5,000 they had agreed to earlier, committee members said.
“They have no money,” Klaver said.
Jackman said in previous reports that various volunteer groups, including the Boy Scouts and the Payson Fire Department would provide much of the manpower for this year’s event.
Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Cameron Davis has said the chief reason for the change was to return the rodeo to its community roots, as the centerpiece of a weeklong series of events that would include a parade, a block party on Main Street and other events. Town officials have said the event didn’t have the seating, publicity or population base necessary to draw the big crowds that generate enough prize money to draw the top professional cowboys in the country.
Pro Rodeo Committee members said the alliance gave their input no consideration, despite their years of service to the rodeo and the community. The committee had no control, no voice, members said.
Members said they placed no blame on chamber manager John Stanton. In fact, Klaver said she heard that many on the chamber board wanted to sell the rodeo to the committee.
“Where all this went amok, I don’t know,” said Klaver, “but it wasn’t John Stanton.”