Festival at Sandpoint staff resigns

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SANDPOINT — Turmoil is gripping the Festival at Sandpoint.

The annual waterfront concert series was already experiencing a tumultuous season after its executive director was fired following a drunken driving arrest. The festival also drew criticism for prohibiting firearms at the request of performing artists.

Event organizers endured tumult again last week, when the entire paid staff — three full-time workers and a part-time worker — abruptly quit the nonprofit and raised doubts that the show will go in 2020.

Toni Fournier Lund, the festival’s executive assistant and assistant production manager, turned in her resignation after 23 years due to a lack of leadership in the organization after the termination of Dyno Wahl. Fournier Lund said in her letter of resignation that there has been no communication with event donors and sponsors, many of whom expressed concern over Wahl’s firing.

“These people are extremely important to the Festival’s survival. They deserve to have been given some explanation and reassurance that the Festival will remain a worthy cause for their continued support,” Fournier Lund wrote.

Fournier Lund said staff were essentially left in the dark about what the Festival intends to do to move forward. She also accuses board Secretary Amy Bistline of scrutinizing their salaries and benefits and said funding for their salaries ultimately dried up at a time when they need to be raising funds and selling season passes.

“I could not in good conscience be a part of any fundraising or season pass sales efforts while these issues were unresolved and nobody seemed to care,” Fournier Lund wrote.

Tamara Verby, accounts manager for the Festival, also turned in her resignation.

“The Festival board did not adequately consider the consequences when taking action concerning both the executive director and the staff,” Verby wrote.

Bistline said there was nothing sinister about evaluating compensation.

“We have a duty as board of directors to ensure we’re in compliance and that had not been done,” Bistline said.

Bistline said the Festival is struggling financially, partly due to the cancellation of Kool & The Gang due to a lightning storm.

“The cancellation from Kool & The Gang has been a really significant financial hit,” she said.

The Festival offered vouchers to Kool & The Gang ticket holders that would have granted them admission to a show during next year’s lineup. However, some demanded full refunds, which Bistline said cost the Festival more than $20,000.

“It was basically the perfect storm,” Bistline said of Wahl’s departure and Bonner County’s lawsuit against the city over the firearms prohibition.

The city, meanwhile, is slated to make a decision on whether to keep the grass turf at Memorial Field or switch to artificial turf. She said the Festival’s preference is natural turf.

“However, we will work with artificial turf if that’s what we have to work with,” Bistline said.

Bistline said she was disappointed with the manner in which the staff resigned, but said the show will go on in 2020.

“I’ve heard speculation that the festival won’t exist or there’s not going to have a Festival this summer, which is a misconception,” Bistline said.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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