Saturday, April 7, 2018

10 Days to Wicked Faire - Part 1

Not sure who everyone is, please consult the Dramatis Personae page.

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

In a future article, I will discuss the
background of what lead to this
conflict and why the former staff
harbored such serious resentment.
On Monday, January 22nd, Jeff Mach, owner of Jeff Mach Events, made a post to Facebook looking for volunteers and staff for an upcoming event. Wicked Faire would be running in Princeton, New Jersey two weeks later on February 2nd. When I saw the post, I thought nothing of it. My wife, being much smarter than I, had a bad feeling about it.

This single post would be the one small spark that ignited the dry kindling of resentment, bitterness, and disappointment that Jeff had created in a decade and a half of business dealings. Jeff’s single minded focus on creating events had led him to neglect the people most important to both his professional and his personal life. But for a dedicated staff that stepped in during this crisis, his lack of personal balance would have doomed this event, and done terrible financial harm to hundreds of people who relied on it.

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

The following day, a number of former staff took screenshots of the original recruiting post and captioned them with variations on the theme that no one should ever work for Jeff Mach, that he didn’t pay his people, that he mistreated them, etc. These response posts began to sprout up like weeds, and a flurry of comments began to fly.

At this time, I had been working with Jeff Mach Events for 12 years. I did not actually speak to Jeff all that often. He is remarkably hard to get a hold of. Some of my role had always been advisory. With business experience in wider fandom and events as well as in the mainstream world, I felt that I had a range of knowledge that could be valuable. In fact, as all the facts came out, it became apparent that issues which I had warned him about years ago would lead to his ultimate downfall.

I misread the situation to just be some bitter former staff sharing sour grapes, so I jumped into the fray with some moderate comments, such as one in which I replied to a commenter who said that she had never heard a single positive review of working for JME with a reply that I had never had a problem there. This turned out to be quite unwise as I ended putting myself on Jeff’s side just before what would happen next.

Amid the comments about how bad it was to work for Jeff Mach Events, one single comment foreshadowed the next step of the crisis. A woman whom we shall refer to as SM posted a short comment saying that Jeff had committed a “consent violation” against her when she was 16 (the age of consent in New Jersey is 16). It mostly went by without notice at the time, but we would hear the rest of that story soon.

On Wednesday, January 24th, a woman posted on a kink-related social media site the full account of what she refers to as a consent violation. The allegation is discussed in this article on the Daily Beast.  The conversation shifted from Jeff being a bad boss and a bad businessman to Jeff being a “sexual predator”, “rapist”, and, after SM’s story came out in full, “child molester.”

Honest people can debate whether the terms used above are too extreme for the actual allegations, but the allegations combined with an already large group of detractors who wanted to see Jeff suffer for what he had done to them professionally, led to rumors and speculations far in excess of the actual allegations themselves.

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

On Thursday, January 25th, eight days before Wicked Faire was scheduled to begin, Elise Potenza began contacting department heads and working to convince them that we should give Jeff an ultimatum that he must not attend Wicked Faire or we would boycott the event. This led the department heads to decide that we all needed to start talking as a group about what was happening.

Believe it or not, the last full staff in person meeting was the morning of the first day of Glimmerdark in February of 2017. There had never been in recent history a full meeting of department heads or leadership whether in person or online. All communication was one to one or routed through the executive leadership. For the first time, the leadership would come together, and during this time, more than once, it would be remarked that we should have been doing that all along.

There were 11 key people involved in the discussion, not including Jeff himself because the conversation was about what we would do about him. We spoke for many hours on Thursday, and this would set the pattern of my evenings for the next week: conversations on Facebook Messenger late into the night.

Almost no one in these meetings had any kind of executive leadership in the company. Elise Potenza and Jakal Blackwell had been on the Executive Committee the previous Fall, but were no longer in that role. When this occurred, there was no executive leadership structure at all. Each department head ran their own department and communication between departments was pretty much as much as was necessary and little more.

For my own part, Amy and I would come down from Connecticut, have some fun and do some work and head home. It was not uncommon for us to arrive and start asking around to figure out who was in charge at this event because there had been some staff change that we had not heard of.

It is important to recognize that this was not a meeting of the executive board. This was a meeting of the head janitor, the IT guy from the basement that no one knew, the head of the mail room, the guy from the stock room, the front desk guard, etc. who had a situation to deal with and rose to the level to deal with it. Other than Elise and Jakal, no one else was significantly involved in high level company issues until this moment.

During the course of these virtual meetings, I got to know Tammy Shipps. I had not known Tammy except as one of Jeff’s “assistants.” Jeff had two kinds of assistants: competent people whom he paid to do work and submissive women that he dated whom he had work for him as part of the relationship. We quickly learned that Tammy was the former, but when this first started many assumed that she was the latter. This unknown assistant who helped with the web site would soon rise to prominence as a key figure in the story as we came to know her.

We talked for hours about what we should do. Should we send Jeff a letter? Should someone call him? Should he come for part of the event but leave early? Should we try to reach out to certain people?

At the end of this long conversation, it was decided that we should call Jeff and advise him to step back from this event and not attend. I was selected to make the phone call. When I called, we had a long talk, and he explained that this was a conspiracy by various key former staff members to do him in. Previously, these staff members had done such things as call the Department of Revenue to cause the company to be audited, so this was just their next volley. He believed that these attacks could be fought with the truth, and over time I was convinced.

It was also during this call that I suggested to him that Tammy should be placed in a role of leadership of the company, which turned out to be one of the most important things that I did during the entire crisis. Her loyalty to the community and the events, her lack of personal ambition, and her clear thinking and organization led me to believe that she would be an excellent choice, and Jeff agreed.

I spoke to some of the other staff, and they agreed with me. If this was, in fact, just an attack by disgruntled former staff, then we could not give in. We had to stand up to them and show them that we would not back down. To our perspective, Jeff Mach was the creative genius who had created these amazing events, and without him we would not have this community that we did.

Friday, January 26th, 2018

On Friday, January 26th, additional conversations had been held, and Jeff decided that it would be best not to attend Wicked Faire. At this time, I was still of the mindset that we were fighting an attack against our community rather than dealing with the revelation of damning accusations against our leader, and I felt that Jeff backing down would be a form of weakness in the face of evil. In the fullness of time, I would come to understand that the attack was indeed organized, but that the germ of that opposition had been a large collection of people who had been wronged in one way or another by Jeff Mach and finally had the opportunity to take action.

On Friday, I had not realized this, and I pushed for the idea that we should stand with Jeff as he stepped back for the chance to take stock of what he had done and find ways to improve himself and become a better person and a better leader.

That evening two statements were drafted. We drafted an apology for Jeff which separately addressed the three types of accusations: his poor business practices, safety at events, and his personal conduct.

In recent days a number of things have been said regarding my conduct both personally and professionally. Many of the things said were valid, while others may have been the result of rumors. Some of the issues raised are from a long time ago and have been addressed, while others are more recent.
I would like to address three different concerns: the company's failure to treat some individuals fairly, safety concerns at events, and consent concerns.
There are a number of people to whom we, as a company, have financial obligations that we have not fulfilled. In some cases it was honest error on my part. We now have an excellent financial manager who is working very hard to straighten out our books. She is currently developing a program to determine who might be owed money and to work to repay those debts. Some of our debts go back many years, so it may take many years to pay them, but we are dedicated to making this right.
Safety concerns regarding bans is very complex. In the complaints that have been raised, there there are some about those who should have been banned or ejected but were not, and also complaints from those who were banned or ejected who feel they should not have been.
Our Consent Team has been replaced, and new policies will be announced shortly to make our process clearer and more easily navigated. Furthermore, we have hired an independent moderator who will serve when accusations are directed towards senior staff members:
Finally, and most importantly, there is the matter of consent. When one is in a position of authority, one can lose their sense of perspective and lose sight of things that might harm another person. It is no excuse for such errors, and sometimes it can take a public reckoning to bring home a truth that I should have been able to find on my own.
In reading the accounts of the three individuals who have been brave enough to step forward, I have realized that my actions have been inadvertently harmful to many people. I would like to step back from my public role to take the chance to reexamine many parts of my life that I have taken for granted, and I hope that may return a better person and a better part of the community.
I am gratified that my entire staff has remained dedicated to our events and our attendees. Tammy Shipps will be leading the company as our head of all operations, assisted by Amy Whitehouse as her administrative assistant. Our talented and experienced department heads and contractors will continue to do the great work I have come to depend on them for, and I hope that we can all focus on having a fun, safe weekend at Wicked Faire.
The staff leadership then drafted our own statement in which we indicated that we were upset by the allegations, and that we agreed that Jeff should step back to improve himself, but indicated a solidarity behind the events. Around this time, we found out that there had been a rumor circulating that Jeff’s original post that started this all had been because 80% of our staff and volunteers had left, which is likely what emboldened them to act at this time. We wanted to make clear that none of us had left and that we were all standing by the events.

Like most people, we were shocked by the allegations regarding Jeff Mach that have come out this week. While some of the allegations were over a decade old, some of more recent ones were still concerning. However, as people who work closely with Jeff, we do not feel he is the monster that some people are making him out to be. He is a flawed man, and perhaps a public accounting is what he needs to realize that there are some things he needs to change.
Jeff is taking the time to step back and address those most important things, especially those failings that have led him to hurt people when he did not intend to. As his staff, we support him in his efforts to improve and stand by him. We look forward to, after a period of reflection for him to learn the ways that he must improve, his return to his work that has brought joy to so many.
Ultimately, that is why we are all remaining with the company and continuing in our roles. For all of his flaws, Jeff Mach has built a series of events like no one else could, although many have tried. Over the decade and a half that Jeff Mach Events has operated, thousands of people have found events that gave them a joy that nothing else could. There have been mistakes and missteps, like in any enterprise, but we learn from each one, we improve, we get stronger, and we serve our community better with each passing year.
We look forward to seeing you, our friends, whether you are new to us or well known, next week at Wicked Faire!
~ JME Staff

In retrospect, both letters had been remarkably tone deaf to the wider conversation. Rereading these statements as I write this, I believe that they well address the points to a calm, uninterested observer. Calm and uninterested did not describe the audience we were speaking to. The audience we were speaking to was out for blood. While the actual accusations were published publicly, very few people took the time to read them, and simply accepted the rumors which included rape and outright theft.

At this moment, we were largely flying blind. There was one individual who had more detailed knowledge of the allegations against Jeff, but she refused to share even the broadest outlines of that information, citing confidentiality. Our suggestions that this was the moment when what she knew could actually evoke the action that had been sought when the allegations were first made fell on deaf ears.

It is understandable that this person might have been concerned about sharing identifying information about the accusers, but we were not even asking for that. We just wanted broad outlines. As I said, "Is it a rape allegation? It is an assault allegation? Did he eat a child? Did he fuck a monkey?"

For reference, the relevant portion of the chat log is included below, since this has been mentioned a number of times in the discussions of this article.

To be continued...

Please return tomorrow for part 2, in which our team removes Jeff Mach from the company to the greatest extent possible and we discover the extent of the organization of those trying to shut down Wicked Faire.


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