As a member of the Great Falls Balloon Festival board of directors, I am one of 14 people entrusted by the people of Lewiston-Auburn, and surrounding towns, to operate the festival.

I’m writing for myself, not the board, who are some of the most honest and decent people I’ve ever met. They donate their time so many thousands of people can attend and enjoy the festival each year.

Each year, more than 30 charities sell food or provide services at the festival to make money for their causes; they also give a percentage to the festival to help pay the bills. We work together, or the festival can’t exist.

Many of these hard-working volunteers are high school students, veterans and many other members of our community. They work with honor and are willing to follow the festival rules.

Unfortunately, not every group feels the rules should apply to them, specifically the union of the Lewiston Fire Department, which collects money for a great cause, muscular dystrophy. All charities are for great causes and should be treated equally. I think the union believes, however, it should not have to follow any of the rules.

The festival offered the union a food booth, like other charities. It refused, saying it could not man a booth. (I’m sure it is not easy for the other charities to man their booths, but they always seem to pull it together and do so, year after year.)

The fire department union also doesn’t want to give any money to the festival, like other charities. I don’t think this is fair, and feel so strongly the other charities shouldn’t pay the union’s share, that I will pay the union’s share from last year’s festival myself. At our next board meeting, I will give the festival treasurer a check for $225, which is 15 percent of what the firefighters raised in 2008.

I’m not surprised at the situation with the union. It’s like having a barbecue; there is always one person who shows up with nothing, eats more than everyone else and leaves without helping clean up.

The festival requires permission from the city councils in Lewiston and Auburn. Auburn gave the festival approval in minutes. I thought it would be the same in Lewiston, but I was wrong. That city council indicated their bias was for their “boys,” the Lewiston Fire Department union.

The council said if the festival doesn’t give the union special treatment, the city would give the $13,000 it uses to support the festival, to the union instead, and there would be no festival. That didn’t sound, to me, like the council was looking out for the people of Lewiston.

I thought councilors were supposed to be fair, decent and open-minded. In my experience, the only one was the mayor. The council should be reminded that they represent all people of Lewiston, not just your “boys.” I was made to feel like the city council is an exclusive club where the festival board and the people of Lewiston are not members.

At that point, I wanted to resign from the board. My pride had turned into sadness and shame.

I have nothing against firefighters. Last January, I awoke to find a neighboring house I owned was on fire and rushed over there to find several firemen fighting to save it. The house was lost, but the barn was saved. The firefighters were freezing and worked through the night. They are all good people.

Yet although I respect and appreciate the men and women of all fire departments, I must separate the fact that nobody deserves or should even want special treatment. That is simply wrong.

The balloon festival, by some accounts, brings more than $1 million to a hurting local economy. It also generates a huge amount of positive recognition for our cities. For $13,000, this is a heck of a bargain for the city of Lewiston.

The council’s actions have caused many board members to to question why they work so hard, after hearing some councilors say they didn’t care whether there’s a festival or not. Some members may resign. No board members and no festival?

That would be a sad day in Lewiston.

Residents who don’t want to see the balloon festival possibly end need to tell the city council no more clubs, and no more special treatment. Fair is fair and fair is right. 

Harold Brooks is a member of the Great Falls Balloon Festival board of directors. He lives in Hebron.


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