Cow Hill Yacht Club To Take Over Saugatuck Venetian Festival; Karaus Out
At its Monday night meeting, Saugatuck City Council was faced with two applications asking permission to hold the same local summer event: the Venetian Festival.
Citing a proven track record of “giving back to the community” and a legitimate IRS 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt designation, city council unanimously voted to approve the application for Cow Hill Yacht Club over Glenn resident Don Karaus Jr.
Although Karaus has run the event for many years in the past, the city’s relationship with him has grown tenuous following dubious cash recording keeping and unproven claims he raised monies for charitable and philanthropic organizations.
The event is not sponsored by the city nor does it organize it, but the event does take place in the city-owned Coghlin Park.
The city has approved this event in the past with the understanding the beer tent and watercraft activity festival is part of a “fundraising” operation meant to benefit various philanthropic organizations and social charities.
Scheduled for July 25-27 this year, the event application was approved with conditions contained in a “letter of understanding,” including a safe cash-handling plan to be approved by the city manager and the chief of the local police department.
Karaus was not present at Monday’s meeting; he informed city officials, via email, that he was out of town on a business trip.
Sherry Tedaldi of the Cow Hill Yacht Club was present, saying the yacht club had gone to the city for the request and not vice versa.
“We will donate all of the money raised back to the local community,” Tedaldi told council Monday. “We also plan on paying the city part of the proceeds (five percent) for the use of the park.”
Council members were impressed.
“You have a history of giving back to the community; the city has received letters of people who have received benefits from your organization,” said Saugatuck Mayor Bill Hess.
Although no city officials mentioned it on Monday, they have acknowledged that Karaus, who has run the festival in the past, has failed to be transparent about accounting records; showing how much money has been spent or raised; and that he has failed to clearly demonstrate how much he has actually donated to community organizations.
Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, for example, has indicated that Karaus has never really held to one figure when it comes to the question of how much the event actually raised last year, but instead has provided different numbers at different times and to different people.
Based on who he was talking to, Karaus’ claims occupy a very broad spectrum, from having raised over $30,000 at the event to actually losing money, a circumstance he claimed forced him to contribute to the cause out of his own pocket.
However, Karaus never provided any financial documentation to verify any of his claims.