by JUDY REED
The City of Cedar Springs moved into a new era on Thursday, August 9, when they voted to terminate the use of the Red Flannel logos and initiate the development of a new logo. The vote passed 6-1, with trustee Pamela Conley being the one dissenting vote.
The development is the latest in an ongoing disagreement between the City and the Red Flannel Festival on whether the City has the rights to use the logos, which the Festival has trademarked. They have requested that the City pay a licensing fee of $4,000, but the City has refused, on the grounds that they have used the logos for identification for 70-plus years, and that the current city’s budget does not allow it.
The City’s ad hoc committee originally offered $4,000 to the Festival last February, for use of the trademarked logos. But when the Festival drafted a proposal, the Festival board asked for $8,000 instead, which was the amount the city had cut from its budget for in kind services to the Festival. The city’s attorney advised them not to connect the fees with use of the logo, since they had always used it. But the city’s committee was still willing to give them $4,000 to help offset Festival expenses.
The two committees met on April 4 to try to work out an agreement. “We told them it had to be two separate agreements,” said Mayor Pro Tem Christine Fahl.
However, as budget time grew closer (the budget meeting was April 14), discretionary funds looked meager. “We didn’t want to respond until after the budget,” explained Fahl. “We then decided it might not be feasible to offer them the $4,000.”
The Festival disagreed that the city had common law rights to the trademark, but said they were willing to work with the city to help offset Festival expenses to the city. Further discussion was directed to their attorney.
In May, the Festival sent the city a cease and desist letter. On May 29, the city proposed to the Festival that the city would use the trademarks, logos, etc. for identification purposes only, and they would agree not to use them for commercial purposes without payment to the Festival. They would also cease use of all logos except the Red Flannel Town USA and round Red Flannel Town, Cedar Springs, Michigan logos. They also added an addition to the current agreement with the Festival, that if the city did accidentally profit from the sale of any items bearing the RFF trademark, they would waive city-incurred expenses associated with the Festival in that particular year.
The City’s lawyer notified the Red Flannel Festival lawyer on July 11 that the City ad hoc committee’s last proposal on May 29 was the City’s “last best offer” on the matter, and that if the proposals were not acceptable, the City was willing to no longer use the logos to avoid incurring further expense.
On July 12, RFF VP Nick Andres read a public letter to the Council stating that they were willing to allow the city to use all trademarks in return for city services. They said they were also agreeable to a city offer of half the services, not to exceed $3,000 and two trademarks of City’s choice.
On July 19, the City’s attorney sent an email to the RFF attorney, noting that the RFF letter from Nick Andres was interpreted as a rejection of the City’s offer of May 29, and that in light of that, the city would begin to remove existing logos from city property as the opportunity arose, and that it would be discussed further at the August City Council meeting.
On August 3, the city’s lawyer received a call from the RFF lawyer, asking whether the city was likely to pay $4,000 for use of the logos. He explained that the ad hoc committee had made it clear it would not support paying to use the logos. He told him the logo issue would be addressed at the next meeting.
The item was then put on the City Council agenda for August 9. Despite rumors to the contrary, the item was not a last-minute addition.
The RFF then sent a letter to the City on August 8 with a notice to file claim for trademark infringement. They reiterated their offer to accept $4,000 for use of two trademarks.
It was at this point that the City voted 6-1 to stop using the logos.
Mayor Pro-tem Christine Fahl read a letter to the public explaining the council’s decision. She noted that on Wednesday, August 8, the City received a “notice of intention to file claim for trademark infringement” from the Red Flannel Festival. “In a nutshell, the RFF is again proposing the City pay for the use of the two logos at $4,000 per year,” said Fahl. “If the City does not agree to their proposal, they, the RFF, are requesting that within 45 days of August 8, the City remove and destroy all logos in question from City property. That being the case… we are now recommending the City adopt a motion to terminate the use of the old logos and initiate the development of a new one.”
All the Councilors expressed sadness over the decision but felt it was the right one to make.
Councilor Pat Capek, who worked with the Red Flannel Festival for many years, said it was a tough decision. But she thinks it was a positive one. “Having the City and the Festival be separate entities is a good thing, and will allow a more positive relationship between the City and the Festival,” she said.
Mayor Charlie Watson said he hoped that the public didn’t think that they take the disagreement with the RFF personally. “We support the Festival. We don’t want it to go away,” he said.
Watson then instructed acting City Manager (and Police Chief) Roger Parent to meet with the city’s department heads to create a plan of action to remove and/or replace the logos within 45 days.
On Friday morning, August 10, Mayor Watson advised Chief Parent to remove and collect, not destroy, all the decals, stickers and other paraphernalia that could be removed, because he wanted to offer items to the Festival that didn’t not say City of Cedar Springs on them. One item, the plaque that hung in City Hall, was destroyed, before Watson was able to clarify his earlier instruction. That item, however, would not have been offered, since it said “City of Cedar Springs” on it. Watson made the offer to the RFF, for them to pay what they think is reasonable for items, and that the money would then go to the library fundraising committee. Festival President Michele Andres said that her board would consider that next week. Items such as street signs will be covered with another sticker for the time being, until a new logo is developed. Wooden signs, such as the Riggle and Morley Park signs, will be routered down. Decals have already been taken off city trucks.
When the news hit that the City would no longer be using the logo, it caused extreme emotional reactions from citizens on both sides of the issue. Many citizens have questioned how much each side is spending on legal fees. According to the Festival, whose donations are down by about $16,000, they have spent about $3,500 in legal fees, with more being donated by their law firms. The City has spent about $6,350 trying to fight the logo issue.
The Red Flannel Festival issued a press release saying they were saddened by the City’s decision but that they respected it. Andres said she wishes it would have turned out differently. “We always give permission when people ask to use our logo, but they have to ask,” she said. “We got hung up on waiving the rights. The board was uncomfortable with giving up our brand and identity. If they had asked to use the logo, and just said we can’t give you any money for it, instead of asking us to waive our rights, it might have turned out differently.”
The Red Flannel Festival will still take place on the first Saturday in October, as it always does. “We are moving forward,” said Andres.
Cedar Springs mayor will not run again
At least one person is leading a recall against Mayor Charlie Watson, calling his actions to drop the logo “fiscally irresponsible.” (Watson did not make the decision alone; the City Council voted 6-1 to stop using the logo.) The citizen argued that removing the trademark would cost more than paying the Festival. (That has not yet been proven.) Watson felt the Council did what was fiscally responsible because the action meant they would stop incurring legal fees on the issue.
The recall campaign caused Mayor Charlie Watson to make public that he will not seek a mayor nomination again this November, nor will he seek reelection at the end of his term in November of next year.
“It’s not because of what has taken place, but it does make my decision easier,” he said.
Watson said he initially planned to make the announcement in November, when it was time to nominate a new mayor.
“No one else on the council has that experience, and I wanted to give someone else a chance to be mayor for a year, especially with a new city manager coming in, so they have time to ask me questions if needed,” explained Watson.
He said he revealed this now because he had been asked about the recall, and he thought it would be a convenient time to let people know.
“If people are truly considered about fiscal expenses, it doesn’t make any sense to hold a special election, if I’m only going to be here for a few months after the recall anyway.”
The earliest a recall election could be held is February.
Watson is in his seventh year on the council.