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Deadhead Festival Dead Beat On $750K For Police Security Owed From Finch Years

January 11th, 2016 · 44 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Budget, Law Enforcement, News and Events

Vibes Seaside 2010

Vibes image courtesy of Morgan Kaolian.

Late last year Ken Hays, founder of the Gathering of the Vibes, announced he needed a “time out” from the annual hippie fest that spent most of its 20-year history on the grounds of Seaside Park. It could make it more difficult for the city to collect $750,000 owed covering the last three years’ worth of police detail including outside overtime. Not exactly music to the ears of city bean counters.

City budget director Nestor Nkwo, among the officials trying to close a budget gap, says the Vibes owes $250,000 per year for 2013-2015. Nestor says the city is holding $300,000 in an escrow account to cover damages, but “In order to use those funds for other purposes Gathering of the Vibes would have to authorize the release of those funds to be applied for an alternate use.”

Hays had transformed Seaside Park, one of P.T. Barnum’s gifts to the city, into a waterfront tent city with visitors arriving from throughout the northeast in tribute to the music of the psychedelic rock band the Grateful Dead. In the spirit of the party group, spirits and reefer near the reef placed hospital emergency rooms on alert. Policing the premises was a costly undertaking requiring security details that included city police outside overtime Hays was obligated to pay, according to the city.

The Police Department security had mushroomed in recent years in response to incidents at the event. The outside overtime office in the Police Department historically handles the billing.

It begs the question, why was Hays allowed to move forward with the event without satisfying the bill?

Hays announced on November 27, 2015, about three weeks after the general election for mayor, that “Producing the Vibes as an independent promoter is a challenging endeavor and, honestly, after 20 amazing years, we need a time out.”

OIB has reached out to Hays for a response.

In December of 2012 then-Mayor Bill Finch announced a five-year agreement with Hays to host the annual festival in Bridgeport through 2017. Hays interfaced with several city departments for the event including police and parks.

The Vibes had its share of supporters as well as detractors who claimed it’s a drain on city services with little economic bang for the buck. It also was controversial for the freebies city officials received to attend the weekend-long festivities.

Under the latest agreement with the city the Vibes was obligated to pay the growing overtime costs that swelled in recent years.

In 2012 CT reporter Brian Lockhart chronicled how Finch’s administration looked the other way when it came to overtime costs. Documentation showed that taxpayers were paying for most of the security even though “Finch’s office claimed Hays paid for the police costs.”

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44 Comments so far ↓

  • John Marshall Lee

    Councilman Andre Baker Jr. cast the lone vote against the new deal, citing a lack of financial data.

    Thank you, former Councilman Baker. There is a lesson in this for the current Council.

    When the numbers are in doubt, that is the time to shout!!!

    So a promoter has benefited by being provided City services per agreement and not paying his contracted agreement (or perhaps his attorney has a different read on the contract signed and left the City at risk?).

    And the Police Department scheduled and supervised the patrol power required as OVERTIME that was helpful to the Pension B safety employees in the State Pension plan (that Tom Sherwood could not bring himself to remember in his budgeting?).

    So taxpayers are out hundreds of thousands of dollars because Bill Finch and his band of “pranksters,” YES, it rhymes with “gangsters,” screwed up once again. Out of public sight, they kept the facts of how they operated. And the external auditors never saw anything but blue sky? Why?

    Which fiscal department in the City should have all these delinquent vendors on a single line item? Comptroller’s Office? Tax Collector, with many PILOTs (payment in lieu of taxes)? Tax Assessor with $1.3 Million of various revenues? Or OPED Administration (line items 45138 and 45140 showing ANNUAL RENT and ANNUAL PILOT totaling $400,000 for this year (down from almost $900,000 for unaudited 2015) but showing nothing so far in four months of the FY.

    Three types of revenue problems in Bridgeport:
    a) Projected revenues that were unchallenged and unrealistic or as in some cases, just unreal!
    b) Revenues that are received by City Departments that are not shown in department budgets, close to $1 Million currently, so what happens to those funds? Lots of room for “fast and loose” practices, and scandals have occurred with such cash in the past.
    c) Revenues that are due to the City per leases, agreements, pilots, etc. for which no specific evidence appears in the Monthly Revenue Reports for easy oversight and monitoring.

    Has the Council been too trusting for years because they are hopeful people, or because they have not had the info? Some applause for Baker in this case, please. Time will tell.

  • Grin Ripper

    Some incumbents and past council people are probably shocked this was going on right under their noses. Hays had the council on Laughing Gas while he was huffing us into financial fumes!

    Wasn’t this under the purview of the Park Board???

    • Four Flats

      Every council member and political hack from Finch to Nunn and everyone in between got VIP passes every year! For FREE! That got reported years ago in the CT Post but it just goes to next page and no one ever looks forward. Over 100 VIP passes per year, for all three days with private VIP bar and food. I still might have my pic of Andy Nunn in his tie-dye drinking his beer with Wood with his VIP pass hanging around his neck from two years ago, lol.

      • Bob Walsh

        True. But not every council member used them. There were a few of us who went on their own dime and realized what an f’n waste the whole thing was. AND a guest pass along with it!!!
        So council members didn’t feel alone at the show.

  • Grin Ripper

    Nothing like some good ‘shrooms, Ken must be a Funghi!!!

  • John Marshall Lee

    Jim (1) and Grin (2), love the humor! Take two jokes, laugh at one, drink one glass of potable water and get a good night’s rest.
    See if you feel any better in the AM. Look at the issues, please. City makes agreements, arrangements, special deals with services outsourced, festival promoters, developers, etc. What drawer are all of those agreements in? Do they have terms to them that expire, like appointments to City boards or commissions? Or do they run forever? Are they performing as expected (obviously not or Lennie would not be featuring this article, among others)? What recourse does the City have? R. Christopher Meyer has been very quiet so far but when will he begin to share what he is finding in the shadows? Maybe not everything that can be seen because Mark Anastasi is still aboard ship? But is a MAYDAY cry likely to sound out in the next month or two as legal issues kicked down the road (with extravagant hopefulness rather than a canny skepticism), come home to roost?

    So keep up the humor certainly, but why not try to scare up some necessary and new info that has not been shared with the public in ways you know are due, but have not yet seen? Time will tell.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Now we can add the park commission to the band of city boards and commissions that suffer from terminal dumb ass. The park board is right up there with the council.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    I guess the big question is Who got paid to keep this quiet? Would this still be a secret if Finch won the election?
    Does anyone responsible ever ask any questions on any deals the city gets into?
    The council can’t seem to get anything right. Is it because they don’t want to or is it because they are too dumb?

  • Bob Halstead

    Sorry, none of you readers seem to “get it” about what this festival was all about.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    This festival was about drugs and a guarded place to do them with no police interference. We gave up our park for 3-4 weeks a year so this phony could come to Bridgeport make millions and leave. Bridgeport realized zip point nothing from this event except a freaking water slide. Those who had a vote on this travesty should be ashamed of themselves for being the idiots they are.

  • Jeff Kohut

    I think Andy’s cynical take on The Vibes, while “cynical,” is indeed accurate. How many ODs? How many fatal OD’s?! Recall the nitrous oxide ring (based in Philly) that was discovered doing a thriving, illegal trade at the Vibes?

    And how does anyone rationalize depriving residents of their Seaside Park for two weeks–during the summer, no less?!

    When I was on the Ethics Commission, we questioned the whole concept of The Vibes, as well as the modus operandi of the Council in all aspects of the city’s hosting of this event. Most of us felt it was a bad fit for Bridgeport and many aspects of the city’s relationship with the producers were dubious prospects for passing the smell test.

    I’m glad it’s gone. It was wrong for the Council to foist this stupid way to promote Bridgeport on the taxpayers. The worst thing is the whole stupid event sent a bad message to our young people.

    If we want to promote Bridgeport via music/music nostalgia, we have the Klein and the Arena.

    • Jimfox

      Jeff, check to see if your Depends pad is upside down, I think you’re peeing in your shoes again!

      You sound like old fart, are you blowing more smoke up our ass?
      Help me out here Jeff, isn’t this your generation’s music!
      Your generation’s festival!
      I think this is the best thing that’s happened to Bridgeport in decades!

      It brings notoriety to a City that basically has very little to brag about except high taxes. So we lose two weeks out of the year at Seaside Park, big flucking deal! Every festival, every parade has its problems.
      So tell me Jeff, what do we replace the Vibes with, crochet classes?
      Jeff, it’s time to grow a spine and set of balls and move the fluck out of your mother’s house!
      Now run over to Bass Pro and pick up a tent a sleeping bag and a flashlight, and get ready for the 2017
      Vibes festival, I heard Guy Lombardo’s old band The Royal Canadians might be playing!

      This is what the festival is all about, Jeff.
      Gathering of the Vibes (often abbreviated as GOTV) is an annual four-day music, camping and arts festival that celebrates the Grateful Dead & showcases a very diverse variety of music. Over the course of the event, styles often include; Funk, Bluegrass, Rock, Jam Band, Jazz, Reggae, R&B & Folk music. Since 1996, GOTV has brought many bands to the New England area during the summer season. There are two main stages that alternate bands so that festival goers experience music all day and into the night. A short stroll down the beach is the “Green Vibes Stage” which showcases some of the Northeast’s finest talent.
      In addition to music, festival goers have access to food and beverage vendors, a variety of both handmade crafts and imported goods along the “Craft Vendor Row” known as Shakedown Street which is highlighted by and many types of vendor, an Art Gallery along with Vibes merchandise. The Vibes also showcases non-profit organizations in a Non-Profit “Village” with an emphasis on local groups. Information and demonstrations include everything from environmental awareness to social consciousness. The Vibes has hosted a non-perishable food and hygiene product drive every year since 1999 to benefit a local food bank.

  • Mojo

    *** Even though many of the OIB bloggers are old in mind and can’t remember the good old days of wine, women, song and dance, with a bit of Panama Red, etc., topped off with good old Rock & Roll. I can remember and like the Vibes at Seaside Park! When else does the Seaside band shell get real use throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall? If the city looks the other way when it comes time to collect, that’s its fault. And it seems to be the usual for the city when it comes to collecting taxes from many other venues, no? ***

  • Four Flats

    First, unlike New Haven which has forced all outside events including the fifth oldest St. Patrick’s day parade to pay all expenses police/set up/clean up, the city of Bridgeport does none of this for all of its events. That’s correct, Puerto Rican day parade, Barnum festival, St. Patrick’s day, Columbus Day, Juneteenth all paid by overtime and tax dollars. Not one of these events pay a single dime toward city cost for police, set up or clean up. Chief Norwood complained about all these mandatory events cutting into overtime budget and was told that is why the budget for overtime is as large as it is. All overtime in all departments is broken down by code, it’s easy enough to see an event costs $100 thousand-plus for one day for police not including public works/parks. What do you think all those football games and basketball games are getting covered under? Democrats catering for votes. Want to get elected, pay for my event. Ken Hayes at least planted grass, cleaned the park before he left and built splash pads. Any other organizations do that?

  • Four Flats

    I also forgot. All events at ballpark and arena all events, the traffic detail is paid by overtime account also how much do you think is getting paid tomorrow for Former POTUS visit, add all those visits up. At least Bass Pro got a bill. In the past the Puerto Rican day parade puts up a permit, fee gets waived, they pay nothing for the event, no police overtime, no public works overtime, no parks overtime and all these events are held on weekends. They leave the park absolutely trashed and ask Charlie Carroll, it takes days to clean up on overtime. One year I saw $85 thousand just for parks cops, 110-plus for one-day event! You people really have no clue, you just smile go and say this was great and seem to think it’s coming out of someone else’s pocket, it never does, elections everyone pays overtime for over 30-plus polling places for 16 hours plus then add supervision plus monitoring escort, and registrars and clerk and absentee, all of this comes out of the overtime operating budget. So you want to cut police overtime, then cancel this crap or make people pay. Look around before you go after Hayes, he is PT Barnum reincarnated found a sucker in the city and he made his money and was better than any stupid parade.

  • Bob Halstead

    The Irish Fest was put out of business from police OT and the amount of cops at the Vibes was simply obscene. What a shame this phenomenal event driven out by greed and small-minded people. Barnum is crying.

    • Four Flats

      So let me get this straight Bob. It’s the cop’s fault. It’s okay everyone else doesn’t pay, that’s okay. If you’re talking about the Irish fest when it was at Seaside, that was a joke at best. They complained about the Vibes taking space and beach away and you want an Irish festival, oh my goodness really? And overtime for the Vibes I would agree was way over the top but if it fit the 250 amount then he should pay it, only the 250 hint hint because I’m sure it exceeded that by 100-plus each year. Who ate that?

  • Bob Walsh

    Ken Hays was a fast-talking filmflam artist, that all. He got rich and ran out of town with our money just to make himself a little bit richer.
    And again, where was the City Council when it came to watching our money? Hanging at the Vibes with the felon and by that I mean Hays not Ganim. Another total disgrace by a totally useless City Council.

  • Bob Walsh

    I believe the Vibes paid the city $10 – $20K a year and all of the used equipment they left behind.
    One year when we were negotiating a new contract I suggested in addition to that a percent of the gross. Tell us what you revenues were for the past five years and we can set a break point where you would pay us X% above that point.
    OMG you would have thought I pulled a gun a demanded all his money. I can’t do that. You’ll bankrupt me. I’ll take my show where it’s wanted. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
    No one else wanted his show. And I am sure no one will want it now.

  • Bob Halstead

    Not at all, Bob. There was no way they needed that many cops. I was there. And if you don’t think ethnic festivals like the Fairfield County Irish Festival are important to the City then we really seem to come from different worlds.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Jim: It’s the flip side to the “Vibes album” to which I take exception. You can’t think of something better to offer to promote Bridgeport than that?

  • carolanne curry

    I am quite amazed at the absolute and the diverse on OIB.
    Quite brilliant.
    JML, Andy Fardy, Jeff Kohut, Mojo, Jim Fox, Bob Halstead, Bob Walsh: the conversation!!!
    Quite a diverse but brilliant group of men you are.
    Put your two best thoughts to seriously eliminating a deficit that would be hell.
    This is one of the better discussions of “who pays.”
    Thank you.

    • Jimfox

      Carolanne and Jeff,
      1. First thing that needs to be done is to retire the Finch $20 million shortfall. By means of a temporary City Sale Tax on goods and services, other large cities like Bridgeport have sale tax programs, this way the tax burden would not be totally on the backs of just Bridgeporters.

      2. I would like to see a premier sports, entertainment and event stadium on the site of Sikorsky’s South End plant, similar to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro MA. I’m sure we can find a football franchise that would love to come to Bridgeport.

      3. I would like to see Joe Ganim with the help of our grant writers, find the seed money to revamp the downtown theaters along with his sidewalk program. Maybe we can bond both programs?

      • Andrew C Fardy

        Institute a sales tax in Bridgeport? Brilliant! Really, where is the money going to come from, the local bodegas?
        Yeah, we’re going to finance a $1 billion stadium down in the South End. Why not in Black Rock?
        Yeah, we will spend millions to revamp a building that has been vacant for 40-plus years.
        Jim, start taking your meds or stop smoking that funny stuff.

      • John Marshall Lee

        Jim,
        I believe you are trying to help us fiscally, but relative to your first suggestion, a city sales tax program, do you have any statistics on what might be raised from such taxing? Recognizing such taxes are generally regressive and most of the shoppers in our City are residents since neighboring towns set up malls and plazas with major retailers.
        Half or more of the $20 Million deficit shows up today because of Police Department staffing, duties, labor decisions, accounting errors, and details on MERS pension funding kept from the taxpayer for several years by Mayor Finch. Perhaps that needs big-time revisit and formation because some of these expenses are annual, not one-time, and run for 20 years or longer.
        Jim, looking at how the City accountants have kept the truth about fiscal revenues from City-owned property leased to others and the annual shortfalls, do you think there is, or will be, adequate revenues from other such public funded projects in the future to support them adequately without coming back to the taxpayer to make up the loss? Where is the resolution to place every such agreement, contract, lease, etc. with over $10,000 per year due to the City on a separate LINE ITEM IN THE CITY REVENUE report monthly so taxpayers, Council members and any one else can monitor the ongoing failure? Which offices are responsible for monitoring the revenue flow from these varied pieces of land and buildings around the City? Time will tell.

      • Jimfox

        Gillette Stadium is a stadium located in Foxborough Massachusetts, 24 miles (39 km) southwest of downtown Boston and 20 miles (32 km) from downtown Providence Rhode Island. It serves as the home stadium and administrative offices for both the NFL’s New England Patriots football franchise and MLS’s New England Revolution soccer team. In 2012, it also became the home stadium for the football program of the University of Massachusetts (UMass), making it the largest football stadium in the Mid-American Conference.

        The facility opened in 2002, replacing the old Foxboro Stadium. The seating capacity is 68,756, including 6,000 club seats and 87 luxury suites. The stadium is owned and operated by Kraft Sports Group, a subsidiary of The Kraft Group, the company through which businessman Robert Kraft owns the Patriots and Revolution.

        The stadium was originally known as CMGI Field before the naming rights were bought by Gillette after the “dot-com” bust. Although Gillette has since been acquired by Procter & Gamble, the stadium retains the Gillette name because P&G has continued to use the Gillette brand name and because the Gillette company was founded in the Boston area. Gillette and the Patriots jointly announced in September 2010 that their partnership, which includes naming rights to the stadium, will extend through the 2031 season. Additionally, uBid (until April 2003 a wholly owned subsidiary of CMGI) as of 2009 continues to sponsor one of the main entrance gates to the stadium. Total Cost $325 Million.

  • Harvey Weintraub

    I tend to belong to the faction that believes the Vibes was/is good for our city. It brings people into our city. My nephew had friends who didn’t camp there, instead they took the ferry in, stayed at the Holiday inn, had some meals at the various downtown restaurants, used cabs to get back and forth, etc, and I’m sure they weren’t the only ones spending their money like that in our city during that weekend. That concert was a way to invite people into our city and show them what a great city we are. How many other events do we have that people want to get off the highway and come into our city? A couple of parades, a few events at the arena maybe? For those who are simplifying as a “drug convention,” that is quite frankly, ignorant. As far as the promoter not paying his bills, that’s a different story, he shouldn’t have been given permits etc, year to year ’til his bills were satisfied.

    • flubadub

      Harvey, your nephew’s friends were the exception, not the rule. The Vibes was pretty much self-contained with food and beverage vendors, an on-site store for supplies. The attendees did not need to leave the compound if they did not want to. Ask Pop’s or any of the other stores and restaurants nearby. I never felt the city received fair recompense for use of the park as it was, never mind getting stiffed for $750,000.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Harvey, I was one of those ignorant people who talked about drugs and their use at the Vibes. There was at least one death from drugs and what about the large cache of drugs the police confiscated and then lost? If you don’t think there is a lot of drug action there then I have a bridge for sale. Interested?

    • Harvey Weintraub

      Mr. Fardy, with all due respect, a few years ago when Cher had a concert at the arena I smelled so much pot being smoked I think I must have left there a little high myself. So should we not have concerts at the arena either since “drugs” are being used there?

  • Andrew C Fardy

    No, we should have concerts. I believe the arena should be patrolled AND pot heads removed. Don’t forget these same idiots drove to the arena. The other difference is the Vibes people know the cops will not bother them unless they have no choice.

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