Sunday, April 8, 2018

10 Days to Wicked Faire - Part 2

This article is the second part of a three part series. You can read the first part here.
Not sure who everyone is, please consult the Dramatis Personae page.

In the previous section, I first learned of the allegations against Jeff Mach and came to realize that we were dealing with something far more serious than merely some sour grapes from former staff members.

Friday, January 26th, 2018

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.

What further complicated the matter was that there were three types of allegations which were conflated. A woman known as Brenna Kali Skirata had created a blog called Owl Eye View in which she cataloged all the accusations and almost any other form of content she found anywhere on the Internet which remotely bore on the issue. They were not sorted by type, so someone could go to the site and see dozens of accusations. There were, in fact, only four accusations of a sexual nature, but one might read one and see it was sexual, then see 20 more links and assume that they were all sexual, which supported the rumors they had read.

In fact, one allegation was from a man who'd been banned from JME events because he was banned from other kink events. Another was from an individual complaining that he'd applied to be a volunteer but hadn't heard back after three months and then decided not to volunteer.

People are busy, and when they feel they have enough information, they stop looking. Most people heard the rumors, read an accusation, saw the length of the list, and knew everything they needed to know.

Through the weekend, we could see that the responses to the statements were not what we had been hoping for. Many people did come out in support of us, but too many did not. It became apparent that Jeff merely not attending would not be sufficient. We were facing a tsunami of anger.

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

On Sunday, January 28th, we received the results of our investigation by our own independent mediator which confirmed some of the allegations and had a recommendation that Jeff should step aside. This was not from the people who had publicly declared that they would have their revenge on Jeff. This was from our own moderator who was not involved in the situation other than in the way in which he had hired him. The mood among the staff was rapidly shifting.

At this time, I contacted a friend who I believed had background in the field of crisis communications. We were clearly over our heads in this situation, and we needed help. He was a member of the community and cared deeply about these events and wanted to make sure that they survived, so he agreed to help.

He developed a plan which involved Jeff stepping away from the company. The problem that we faced was that we were working in a world of rumor, innuendo, and unbridled rage. Jeff was willing to step away if it would allow his events to survive. He cared about his events more than anything else. In fact, much of his habit of promising things he could not deliver was because he cared so much for his events and the community that he built that he would do anything to make them happen, even if it meant overpromising.

This was not merely stepping away from an event for Jeff. For Jeff Mach, this was giving up his life's work. His entire adult life had been dedicated to building Jeff Mach Events. The only asset he owned was the company, and he was being asked to walk away from it, getting nothing in return, or at least far less than it was worth.

The problem was not convincing Jeff to step aside. The problem was convincing the angry mob that he had really done so. Jeff was the sole owner of Jeff Mach Events. While he could assign authority, he could not quickly transfer the assets or events. The hotel contract was in his name. Everything belonged to him and his company, and, due to sloppy management, the assets were commingled between his personal and business resources.

On Sunday night, we drafted a statement that announced that we were pushing Jeff out of the company and that new policies were being put into place to address some of the systemic issued that had been raised.

Recognizing that the rumors were growing exponentially, we realized that action needed to be taken immediately. It was expected that this statement would be out first thing Monday morning so people could see it when they first checked social media in the morning.

Monday, January 29th, 2018

By noon, the statement was still not posted. Jeff wanted to consult his lawyer prior to acting, and this lawyer was not available to speak until 2 PM. Our crisis expert informed me that if we didn’t have this statement out by 3 PM, then we would have lost the bulk of the benefit of it. Unfortunately, the lawyer did not understand PR, but did understand defensive law, so he was all caution and pause.

This lawyer, as we would discover after Wicked Faire, was quite unqualified to handle a situation of this nature. He could not grasp the situation, nor could he achieve any level of haste at any time.

Finally, as the furnace of Internet ire grew hotter, at 8:20 PM on Monday, January 29th, the following statement was finally posted.

Guests, Attendees, Friends, & Family:
As some of you may know, there were a number of serious allegations against Jeff Mach, former head of Jeff Mach Events, and the topics of security and consent have been in the forefront of most conversations.
We have read what you have written to us. We have listened to your concerns, taken them to heart, and we have made a choice to act in what we hope is in the best interest of the community, the company, and our patrons.
We care deeply about the safety and well-being of everyone who steps into our events in any capacity. We’re making a massive effort to change all of the old company policies and put fairer, clearer policies in their place.
Our goal has always been to provide our attendees with events that are unique, fun, and safe. However, after talking to many of you, we’ve realized that we can do a much, much better job ensuring that our events are a safe place to be, and that our business practices are more ethical. To that end, we would like to announce the following:
* Jeff Mach will not be allowed into any events of ours for the foreseeable future. This includes the Wicked Faire next weekend.
* Jeff Mach has stepped back from the company completely. He will not participate in the management of events or operations for the company in any way.
* Jeff Mach has been removed from payroll and will not receive paychecks from any events for the foreseeable future.
* Any profit made from Wicked Faire: Reborn will go to paying off debt to performers, vendors, contractors, etc.
* No writings by Jeff Mach of any kind will be posted on any official channel or page belonging to Widdershins, Inc. and we have removed the vast majority of his writings from the existing web properties already.
* Widdershins, Inc., as an entity is in the process of determining the right way forward that will allow the events to continue without Jeff Mach as an active participant, including potential sale of all events and assets to an entity of which he will not be a part.
As stated above, we have begun the process of forming a new entity that is completely separate from Jeff Mach, Widdershins, Inc., and Jeff Mach Events. All of the events loved by so many will be run by the new entity, including The Steampunk World’s Fair, Wicked Faire, and the Geeky Kink Events (Classic and New England.) The new entity will begin as an LLC and be owned and operated by myself. This process is not a quick one and is likely to take 30 - 60 days to finalize. We will keep our attendees up to date as much as possible.
Because it is so important, I want to reiterate:
Jeff Mach will not be permitted to enter or or otherwise attend the Wicked Faire: Reborn, nor any other event run by our team.
Jeff Mach has not and will not receive his salaried pay for the foreseeable future. If Wicked Faire makes any profit, it will go to paying off those we owe money.
We are invested in saving the events that so many of you love and that many vendors and performers rely on. This is incredibly important to us, and while we have no right to ask it of you, we beg to please be patient with us as we completely overhaul all policies and procedures to make our events and company safe and ethical.
This is just the beginning of the changes that are being made and we expect many questions to be posed to us. There is a list of our leadership team below with the information on how to contact them; please reach out to us, we’d be happy to address any questions or concerns you still have!
Tammy Shipps, CEO – Just Magical Events &
Executive Managing Committee Members

It had the right effect and was received the right way, but the delay had been catastrophic. Rumors had spread far beyond our capacity to reach. People had begun to call their credit card companies to charge back their tickets, and some were even calling the hotel to say that they would picket the event and to demand that it be cancelled.

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

The challenge in fighting rumors is that you never really know what is happening beyond your own personal circle, and information was coming to us too slowly. Had we been properly organized as a crisis response team, we would have had plans in place to keep information flowing to us, but we were a convention team, not a crisis team. We were set up to run a show, not a campaign. We did not know that throughout Tuesday, the rumors continued to spread and, with it, the anger.

While those who had seen our second statement were largely satisfied, there were many that it had not reached. Many of Jeff’s die-hard opponents did not believe that he was really stepping down. They believed it was some kind of trick.

To be continued...

Please return tomorrow for part 3, in which we discover that those trying to shut down Wicked Faire had one more trick up their sleeves, and it would came within a hair's breadth of succeeding.

Interesting Note:
Somewhere around this time, Turtle Hill Events stopped providing data on ticket sales, further decreasing our situational awareness. Also around this time, Turtle Hill Events started negotiating with Jeff to buy the Geeky Kink Events (which were renamed after the sale). As we ultimately discovered, the financial situation of the event was better than we thought, largely due to the money Tammy had put into it.

While the Geeky Kink Events were sold for the bargain price of $8000, it turns out that that money would end up being entirely unnecessary to the success of Wicked Faire. Tammy Shipps' loan of $42,000 to the event ensured that all the bills were paid.

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