Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:17 pm
Editor’s note: Ted Kellner, chairman of the board of Milwaukee World Festival Inc., which oversees Summerfest, recently sent the following letter to the organization’s board of directors.
Dear fellow Directors:
Because of your role as a member of the Milwaukee World Festival Board, I wanted to keep you directly informed of the facts regarding Summerfest’s policies, procedures and transparent decision-making process. Past media reports have suggested that our process lacks transparency, but I am here to tell you this not the case.
Summerfest is arguably Milwaukee’s best asset for bringing together people from all
walks of life in our community, and the rest of the world. Summerfest and our ethnic festivals provide affordable entertainment for people of all ages, attract tourism dollars into the region and support the recruitment and retention of young professionals to the benefit of our local economy.
As an enterprise, Summerfest is just one component of Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. Its benefits are far-reaching to the City of Milwaukee, its economy and its residents:
- The organization develops, operates, and maintains a world-class festival site that benefits Summerfest, numerous annual ethnic festivals and charitable events, which attract an ethnic mix of approximately 1.5 million people annually to Milwaukee’s lakefront.
- Summerfest offers free and discounted admission programs taken advantage of by nearly 90,000 people.
- Summerfest has an annual direct economic impact of $180 million, employing 41 full-time employees, and more than 2,000 seasonal staff, and additional positive indirect impact on our local economy.
- Summerfest’s ongoing success and positive revenue has allowed for significant, upgrades and investments to the lakefront festival grounds, leased from the City of Milwaukee, including almost $58 million in new construction over the last eight years.
This enterprise is led by Don Smiley, a top professional who has met and exceeded every goal his board has put in front of him. Don has earned salary increases and clearly defined bonuses as a result of successfully achieving these goals.
All of these compensation adjustments have been made following best practices and
procedures adhered to by the majority of other private nonprofits in our community, and with the benefit of national compensation studies and research. We have reviewed 13 comparable local nonprofits; nine follow the same, or similar, structure that we do, which involves compensation decisions being made by the personnel committee and approved as part of the budget, first by the Finance Committee and then by the full board. This is further confirmation that our policies and procedures are consistent with other comparable organizations.
However, unlike other private nonprofits, Summerfest actually provides several
additional points of public transparency to our process: we adhere to the open meetings law, allowing the public and media to attend our meetings and we also agree to provide more access to our executive compensation decisions than most nonprofits.
A recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about attracting human capital to
Milwaukee contained half the equation: “To succeed, Milwaukee must attract smart
people willing to take risks.” In Summerfest, we have a program that has continued to be a success and a source of pride for our community year after year, in large part due to smart, visionary Summerfest leadership from its board and staff, including Don. The second half of this formula for our city’s success should read: “We also need to pay them a competitive wage and incentivize them to set ambitious goals, innovate and take risks to achieve great results.”
We believe Milwaukee and Summerfest have a great future ahead, but to achieve success both need strong, progressive leadership that is supported in the effort to achieve it.
If you have any questions about the value Don or Summerfest bring to our community, or the transparency involved with our decision-making process at Summerfest, please contact me at (414) 287-4417. Thank you.
Chairman of the Board
Milwaukee World Festival, Inc