Letter to the editor: The blame game continues after the death of GO Cedar Rapids

‘Tree Of Five Seasons’ in Cedar Rapids — Chris Heald/Flickr, cropped

By Chad Cooper, Cedar Rapids

If you’re sick and tired of reading about GO Cedar Rapids and newbo evolve, I’ll take no offense if you opt for a hard pass on this letter.

This is now the fifth (!) piece I’ve written about this festival turned flatulent flagrancy, and these writings have been much more provoked than proactive. The announcement of the festival and efforts by some prominent Cedar Rapidians to silence criticism provoked my first letter. The subsequent failure and loss of $2.3 million sparked the second. My third letter came on the heels of the dissolution of GO Cedar Rapids. My fourth appeal was in response to city officials making a quick decision to hand tourism and promotion responsibilities to Ames-based VenuWorks. After writing that, I really thought I was finished with this topic.

I guess I’m not finished with this topic. (I really wish I were finished with this topic.)

But here I am, this time in response to a recent Gazette article detailing a lengthy Facebook post from a former GO Cedar Rapids executive. In the post, the former director of destination development (abundant alliteration in that job title) says he warned a higher up that newbo evolve was “severely flawed” and doomed to fail, but to no avail. The article is worth a read. It’s the first we’ve heard from anyone who actually worked at GO CR, and on first glance I could see where the former GO CR employee could appear sympathetic — a whistle blower attempting to provide insight on a now-infamous civic debacle. But upon closer inspection, the insights become less revelatory, murkier and prompted more questions than answers.

First, let’s look at the timing of the post and article. Postmortem whistle blowing is rather fangless. Though the employee provided text messages he says he sent to GO CR’s then-CEO Aaron McCreight in February, to air all of this now seems more self-serving than self-aware. It’s public hindsight for the sake of public appearance. It’s much more saving face than a saving grace.

Let’s follow that “saving face” thing. The Gazette article mentions that in the former employees’ post, he touted the strides and achievements made by GO CR outside of newbo evolve and said that GO CR and McCreight had a strong track record until that point.

Great, GO Cedar Rapids had some tangible, industry-important, tourist-board-worthy achievements. I’m sure they even have a few plaques to show for their efforts. (I wonder where those plaques are now.) But those awards don’t help the businesses in NewBo still trying to recover from evolve. They don’t wipe the stain from the decision to literally attach the neighborhood’s name to a failed event. They don’t compensate local vendors.

Marketing is often optics, and there aren’t enough rose-colored glasses in existence to make GO Cedar Rapids look successful. When you think GO CR, you think newbo evolve. When you think newbo evolve, you think failure. In this instance, perception is very much reality. To list prior achievements in the wake of evolve is futile and an exercise in vanity, even if you attempt to frame it by saying you understand how big of a fiasco evolve was.

Lastly, how about attribution of blame? The article quotes the former employee writing that “newbo evolve was an epically tone-deaf vision of a delusional human being that did not possess the skills nor was provided the leadership necessary to execute anything other than the disaster it was.”

The article goes on to state that the employee laid the blame for the festival squarely on McCreight and former community events director Scott Tallman.

Those statements are the main reason I decided to write again.

In the aftermath of evolve, it’s easy to single out and focus all blame on McCreight (who, if you’re interested, came to Cedar Rapids from the budding metropolis of Casper, Wyoming) and Tallman. They were the listed leaders. They got canned. They weren’t from Cedar Rapids, and their area codes have surely changed since their firings. They clearly had no business running a festival like this. The former GO CR employee says as much. Tallman has since come out to defend himself, saying he “was hired to do a job and did it incredibly well.” The insanity of that statement aside, none of that really matters now.

To put all of this on McCreight and Tallman and simply carry on is to miss the larger point, the more critical problem and the most important questions: Why were they hired in the first place and empowered to such a degree?

GO Cedar Rapids had a board. You might remember at least a few of the members. Last time we saw and heard from them, they were turning pointing fingers into a competitive sport. Apparently, no one knew what the hell was going on, but they knew enough to know McCreight and Tallman were responsible for it all. Sounds convenient but not coherent.

If evolve is to have a silver lining, let it be in the form of a more holistic look at why this happened and a renewed support for the local businesses in and around NewBo. The quickest, most effective way to help is to shop, drink and dine at the core businesses that actually help define this city. Then, as I stated in my previous letter, we need to look at the decision-makers and begin to have active conversations not only about why this happened but about how we can work together to authentically and effectively promote this city.

Let’s stop playing the blame game. It has become abundantly clear we can’t wait for someone to step up and own responsibility. The buck needs to stop with all of us as citizens, and we need to come together as a community to help Cedar Rapids thrive. That’s an evolution I can support.

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