BLAIRS, Va. — Nearly six weeks after the Blue Ridge Rock Festival had a $20 million impact on Pittsylvania County, Purpose Driven Events CEO Jonathan Slye spoke about the tumultuous and often coercive relationship between him and county officials.
On September 23, Pittsylvania County issued Slye a bill for $177,472 in expenses resulting from services provided during the rock festival, including transportation, security, and emergency services, among others. In the bill, Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman personally bills Slye $150 an hour for 58.5 hours over a five-day period, including three weekdays, for a total of $8,775. . Slye said he never agreed Smitherman would work for him during the festival and never discussed or agreed to an hourly rate.
“It’s double dipping,” said Tunstall District Supervisor Vic Ingram, the first supervisor to publicly endorse the music festival, in response to Smitherman’s exorbitant hourly rate. “I don’t think he should go after this. It’s disgusting that he’s trying to get $150 an hour from this business. It’s just plain wrong to try and profit from it. .”
Slye said he was blindsided by the bill.
“I never saw a contract or a financial proposal for the majority of the invoices we assessed,” Slye said. “I understand that the time allotted to the festival by people such as the county administrator, deputy county administrator and county attorney was included in their salaries and past fees imposed on us. I don’t I was never informed that we were charged extra for their services, nor was I informed of the hourly rates they would allocate themselves.”
Other costs billed personally include $875 to Deputy County Administrator Richard Hicks, $300 to County Attorney J. Vaden Hunt and $350 to Kaylyn McCluster, an administrative clerk.
“Prior to the start of the festival, I spent many hours working on festival-related administrative tasks that are part of my normal duties, and these costs were not charged to the promoter,” Smitherman said. “However, just as it would not be fair to the taxpayers for our public safety department or our sheriff’s office to hold this kind of event without being paid by the promoter, it would not be appropriate for me to spend nearly 60 hours at help run a private event without Pittsylvania County recouping those costs It’s not typical for a county administrator to have such a hands-on role in managing so many of the logistics of a private event like this, that’s why we charged goal-based events for my time.”
Excluding meal taxes, the final invoice sent to Purpose Driven Events was $337,592. According to the county, many bills were “unscheduled” due to “insufficient performance by Purpose Driven Events vendors.” Slye said the contingency rates seemed arbitrary and unreasonable.
“When the bills were first presented to me on the evening of September 28, I was completely shocked,” Slye said. “Through 1,000 events across the state of Virginia, I have never received such large bills before.”
Slye was charged $10 per gallon for diesel fuel, which he said was “disappointing” as the nearby Campbell County Treasury office testified that due to government subsidies, the cost of fuel for their county is only $2 per gallon for diesel fuel.
“After more than $20 million in financial impact from the festival, including other direct costs to Pittsylvania County, the bills received were both unexpected and disheartening,” Slye said.
Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Warren said while the bill may seem punitive, the county’s intent was solely to protect its taxpaying residents.
“As stewards of the Pittsylvania County budget, this council strives to be fiscally responsible in all respects. With the Blue Ridge Rock Festival, we worked with the event promoter and county staff to help us ensure that this event does not cost our taxpayers,” Warren said. “Many of our employees, along with other area organizations and government agencies, worked diligently over the weekend to mitigate some of the issues faced by the event and ensure the safety of all attendees and our Due to the long hours and work well outside the normal job description of many of these people, we charged the promoter to recoup these costs. as successful as it has been without the tireless work of many in our organization, ranging from our sheriff and county administrator to our solid waste management team.
Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor admitted he doubted whether or not Slye accepted what, if anything, Smitherman’s hands-on involvement in the event would be, but argued the festival would have been a failure without county intervention.
“Mr. Smitherman came to the festival site due to reported concerns regarding the lack of operational management of the festival,” Taylor said. “If I remember correctly, on the Friday morning of the rock festival event, Mr. Smitherman called a meeting with the promoters and contractors. The Virginia State Police, as well as myself and many other agencies were present to resolve unacceptable issues with festival operations.”
Taylor said Slye indicated that some of its contractors had simply shied away from their responsibilities or failed in their obligations to the event.
“Mr. Smitherman arranged local vendors, at the promoter’s additional expense, for transportation issues, waste management issues and lighting issues with VDOT and others to get the event back on a manageable basis” , Taylor said. “Mr. Smitherman has maintained a physical presence to assist in any way possible to address our citizens’ concerns regarding operational missteps by the Developer’s contractors. Mr. Smitherman has had ongoing meetings with the Developers and their staff to ensuring things were accomplished as promised by Goal-Based Events as well as seeking input from county and state agencies.”
Slye’s account of meetings with the county tells a much different story – one of financially motivated intimidation and coercion, particularly regarding the payment of the meal tax generated at the Blue Ridge Rock Festival.
“The whole meal tax situation was uncomfortable throughout,” Slye said. “We were asked for financial figures that were beyond county jurisdiction both during and immediately after the festival. We were hounded, and what some would say threatened, over the issuance of the tax payment on meal.”
Slye said Warren and Smitherman misled him about when installments and financial reports were due.
“Given the extreme sense of urgency surrounding meal taxes in the days following the September 9-12 festival, we felt like we were somehow way behind in our payment…only for discover that the meal tax, and accompanying financial report, was never due before October 20.”
Slye also indicated that Warren and Smitherman withheld information in an effort to directly generate the maximum monetary return possible from goal-driven events.
“There was a discount that we weren’t made aware of and that became a hardship that, in short, we had to learn about ourselves and put it through,” Slye said. “If you look back at the letter that was leaked to the press from September 21st, it even directs us to ‘return all county meal tax proceeds by hand delivery or delivery on next day in a hurry.” Again, this was in a September 21 letter. The meal tax deadline is actually October 20.
The Sept. 21 letter also stated that Purpose Driven Events was prohibited from proceeding with the Blue Ridge Country Festival, originally scheduled for Oct. 1-3, without first paying taxes on the meals of the event of the previous month. This imposed deadline would not have met guidelines the county had previously established for the meal tax, Slye said. He said the county later classified it as “miscommunication.”
“Given the number of leaders involved, it seems very strange that there is confusion with established laws,” Slye said. “In my personal experience with the meal tax, I never felt there was a misunderstanding on anyone’s part with the county regarding the tax. We just had to pay now, and there’s no There was no other way around it. We only discovered the actual tax due date once the payment process was already underway.”
Purpose Driven Events first provided the September 23 invoice to Star Tribune October 1.
On October 12, Pittsylvania County released the bill, several days after the Star Tribune approached Smitherman with questions about the bill. Slye said he saw it as a calculated move to tarnish his reputation by controlling the flow of information.
“Despite having paid early, due to the leak of the letter which landed on all media outlets in the region, the general public was falsely led to believe that we had not fulfilled our responsibilities in this matter, compromising by further the financial integrity of the organization,” Slye said.
In its Oct. 12 statement, Pittsylvania County said Purpose Driven Events owed the county more than $300,000. However, in a Sept. 30 letter from the county to Slye, Smitherman wrote, “Pittsylvania County will post the remaining balance of your bond when it receives payment of the above. If we do not receive payment in full of $336,295.50 by October 28, 2021, we will deduct the full amount of the remaining bond on hand and then transfer the remaining $10,495.33 to the appropriate account, as listed in the September 29 tour email.
In that letter, the county says that overall it is indebted to Slye – contrary to what the October 12 statement would suggest.
“The bond the county holds is not a typical insurance company bond,” Slye explained. “It’s real cash transferred to us, meaning we ‘pay’ them or if they deduct it from the deposit, it’s all the same. Therefore, no matter how successful we are in fighting any of the bills imposed on us, the county will be paid in full by default, because there was therefore never a chance of “unpaid bills” for which we received such negative attention.”
Purpose Driven Events lost about $1.6 million due to the unrest between the company and Pittsylvania County, according to Slye.
Cara Fischer, director of operations for Purpose Driven Events and former events manager for the city of Austin, Texas, asked just one question.
“We understand that these government positions are classed as exempt employees, which means they charge for their time – where does that money go?”