By Lethbridge Herald on December 18, 2023.
Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – email@example.com
Lethbridge city council on Monday voted to provide emergency interim financial support to the Lethbridge and District Exhibition.
Part of a resolution that was passed also calls for the implementation of an interim governance body for the Exhibition which excludes any previous board members “to ensure a clean slate,” said a press release from the City late Monday afternoon.
On Monday morning the Exhibition had announced that it and CEO Mike Warkentin “have mutually agreed to part ways. The decision comes as LDE begins the process of reorganizing to ensure the continued success of the organization and the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre,” said a release from the Exhibition.
The new governance body of the Exhibition will include administrative staff from the City of Lethbridge and Lethbridge County pending acceptance from the County council.
A memorandum of understanding will be developed between the City of Lethbridge and Exhibition based on recommendations contained within the letter of intent no later than Jan. 19 subject to city council approval at its Jan. 23 meeting.
The City of Lethbridge will immediately provide an emergency operating grant of $250,000 to the Exhibition and will also set aside up to $950,000 in contingency, held under City Control, “for verified emergent needs,” said the City in a press release. This one-time funding comes from the Municipal Revenue Stabilization Reserve.
In addition, an independent third-party review will be done of the Exhibition with a Phase 1 report to be presented at the Nov. 14, 2024 meeting of the Economic and Finance Standing Policy Committee which includes all members of city council.
The review also calls for regular reporting to the Economic and Finance SPC and for city administration to provide regular reports on any critical findings to that SPC as they occur.
As part of the review, there will be funding up to $300,000 from the existing 2023-26 operating budget and funding of $850,000 for contract or term positions support backfill of key City resources which will be one-time MRSR funding.
“This is not a position we ever wanted to be in,” said Mayor Blaine Hyggen in a press release.
“But the reality is, this organization is in financial trouble and change is needed. I am extremely proud of how city council and administration have come together to take a leadership role in this change and work with the Lethbridge & District Exhibition to make that happen. We want to reassure the community, and those who have invested in this facility, that the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre remains open for business.”
In the same release, councillor Belinda Crowson stated “there have been several points in our history where the City has provided support to the Exhibition. We have always found a way to work through it, for the benefit of our community, and I am confident this time will be no different.”
On Nov. 28, council passed several resolutions to financially support the Exhibition after Warkentin appeared at council, asking for $6.7 million in emergency funding and the immediate takeover of the old pavilions, excluding the west one.
All of the resolutions were contingent upon the province sharing equally a capital grant of just over $2 million to help the organization deal with its financial shortfall.
Monday’s announcements come seven days after the provincial government announced in a letter to Hyggen that was read at the last council meeting that it would not provide a requested $1 million in emergency funding to Exhibition, citing concerns with its business plan.
During a phone interview Monday morning on a separate subject moments after the release about Warkentin was received, MLA for Lethbridge East and Minister of Affordability and Utilities said the province is still working to find “the best solution” to the Exhibition’s financial problems.
“We’re still working with Exhibition Park, we’re still working with the City, we’re still working independently to find the best solution here. It’s disappointing that it’s come to this place,” said Neudorf.
His words echoed those of Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation RJ Sigurdson in his letter which stated “because the viability of the current business plan is in doubt, the province declines to provide the requested $1,040,546.50 to the city. The province hopes to see the Agri-Food Hub remain an asset for the agriculture and agri-food community therefore the Minister will seek to work with the Lethbridge and District Exhibition and City of Lethbridge on a comprehensive needs assessment and revised business plan to ensure the success of this vital agricultural asset.”
Warkentin was named CEO in May of 2021, almost a year after he took on the job on an interim basis. He was hired by the Exhibition in 2018.