STILLWATER The New Ulm Battery has joined a growing list of venders seeking an investigation by the Stillwater Police Department into non-payment by the organizer of Lumberjack Days and Stillwater's Fourth of July celebration.
The requested probe will join the ongoing investigation by the Washington County Sheriff's Office into event organizer David Eckberg and the organizations he oversees: St. Croix Events and Lumberjack Days Association. The subject of the investigation is more than $30,000 in dishonored checks to venders for the Lumberjack Days.
The City of Stillwater has suspended its annual contract with St. Croix Events, the parent organization for Lumberjack Days Association, over the investigation and $20,000 owed to the city for fire and law enforcement services. So far, no criminal charges have filed.
John Fritsche, New Ulm Battery's secretary and first lieutenant, said his organization fired cannons for the fireworks display performance of the "1812 Overture" at the 2010 Stillwater Fourth of July celebration. He said that he had a verbal agreement with Eckberg that they would be paid $1,500 for the performance, but the payment was never received. He said the Battery gave the same performance in 2009 and received payment for that event.
The 2010 performance consisted of six cannons: two from the New Ulm Battery and two cannons each from similar organizations in Lake City and Lakeview, Iowa. The original payment plan was for the Battery to receive the $1,500. Then, the fee would be evenly split to $500 for each of the three organizations, or $250 per cannon. When the payment wasn't immediately available the night of the performance, the Battery paid the other two organizations their fees from its own reserves. Fritsche said the intention was to not have the other organizations' pay delayed. He said the Battery expected to be reimbursed the $1,000 when it received the payment.
"We're usually paid upfront or before an event. But, when an event hasn't been able to, we have always been paid within three or four days," said Fritsche, "In the 45 years I've been with the Battery, this is the first time we haven't been paid."
He said that the non-payment resulted in the Battery having to turn down a separate performance in 2010 due to lack of funds for transportation. He explained that the Battery's annual budget is approximately $12,000 a year and the unplanned loss of funds represented a significant chunk of the budget. However, he emphasized that the non-payment was an one-time problem that will not affect any of the Battery's local functions.
"We do shows [like the Stillwater performance] on the side to build some extra money for trips," said Fritsche, "We really miss [those funds] because we use them to finance trips. We trying to raise money for a trip to Shiloh, Tenn. and we could have used that money."
Fritsche said he believes that the Battery not receiving its fee was accidental on the part of Eckberg and his organization. He said he believes that the organization was simply unable to generate enough funds to cover all its expenses. Eckberg has previously blamed the lack of funds on dramatically lower festival proceeds, which he said were stunted by flooding, heat waves and rain. Eckberg has admitted he owes the Battery and said the organization is among his top repayment priorities.
However, Fritsche said he gave the matter to the police after attempting to contact Eckberg six times since the 2010 performance. He said he finally spoke with the Stillwater mayor, who directed him to the investigation.
Fritsche said he has doubts about whether the Battery will be able recover its performance fee. He said he plans to wait and see what occurs with the investigation before proceeding further. He also said he hasn't taken any options, including civil lawsuits, off the table at this time.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)