SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Marathon is without a race director, staff or most of its longtime volunteers, but event owner Chris Devine said there is no reason to worry.
"I would say absolutely," said Devine when asked if this year's marathon would occur in April. In fact, he said, they are already planning something special for 2013, which would be the 10th anniversary of the Salt Lake City Marathon and its accompanying events.
The first order of business, he said, is to hire a new race director after the only race director the event has had, Scott Kerr, resigned on Oct. 26. While Kerr did not ask anyone to leave with him, many of the volunteers felt the race was as successful as it was, despite being dogged by financial difficulties, because of Kerr's efforts on behalf of runners, vendors and volunteers.
When asked why he quit, Kerr said, "I think it speaks for itself. I wanted the vendors and staff to be paid. Many of them had, but others were not. It was approaching seven or eight months from the event, and I just felt, at that point, I needed to walk away."
Devine blamed Kerr's resignation on a breakdown in salary negotiations.
"It wasn't a surprise," Devine said. "We'd been in protracted negotiations for a couple of years."
As far as the event's financial difficulties, Devine said he wasn't aware some of the vendors were still awaiting payment for the 2011 race.
"That's a dynamic between our office and Scott," he said. "It's a couple of things that went wrong, but a couple of those vendors we didn't know about. We will get all of those taken care of very quickly."
But several vendors contacted by the Deseret News said that the broken promises came directly from Devine.
Jon Atherton is owed somewhere around $70,000 for the work his company AA Sports did in timing the races. He has a contract for the 2012 event, but won't time the races if he isn't paid in advance of the events.
"He is still behind from previous years," Atherton said. "We have not heard a thing this year."
Atherton said he has often dealt with Devine directly, but that he remained loyal because of his "tremendous" respect for Kerr and his affection for the runners.
"Chris indicates that he's looking for a certain amount of loyalty," said Atherton. "Not paying us over one or two years, or paying us partially, and we still showed up to do the timing, I think that's pretty good loyalty. … He's made so many promises to rectify the money he's owed. I think we've been extremely loyal because he's never come through. He's gone so far as to say 'I've sent a check in the mail' or 'I've wired the money.' Why would you make that kind of statement if it's a flat-out lie?"
Ed Pratt of Pratt Sound said he's owed about $6,500. He said he'd work the Salt Lake City Marathon again if he is paid in full — and in advance.
"(Devine) said he'd pay 50 percent but he never did, and that was three or four months ago," he said. "I pay my vendors whether I get paid or not."
It's not just vendors, it's former staff members, some of whom said they are still owed money.
Some vendors who required payment in advance said their checks were no good, while others did the work hoping to be compensated because they felt a sense of loyalty to Kerr and the participants.
Former assistant race directors Dustin Stark and Topher Horman said problems ranged from not having internet service (because of an unpaid bill or bounced check) to being evicted from their office space.
"The problems were so massive that I cut my ties after that one year (2007)," said Horman, who helps organize big events like Eve and the Utah Arts Festival. He started his association with the race as a vendor and then took a job as assistant race director.
"I work with these exact same vendors — fencing, barricades and Honey Bucket," Horman said. "There were daily phone calls and emails from the winners who had not been paid for the second year in a row. There were daily phone calls and emails from vendors who had not been paid for the second or third year in a row. Eviction notices on the office, constantly. Sometimes we couldn't get into storage units. I'd get off the elevator every day literally in fear of having a reporter be there asking why we hadn't paid the bills yet again. I cut my ties at that point."
The 25-person volunteer race committee all told Kerr they will not be helping with the marathon this year after hearing of his resignation.
"I can't ethically ask my friends to be involved," said co-chair of registration Gina Williams. "We would work our tails off to fix these things, to make it run smoothly for people."
Williams, Horman and others are concerned most for the runners who pay between $35 and $110 to run or ride in the various races and the companies taking a financial hit in already tough economic times.
"My concern," said Horman, "is the vendors who haven't been paid. These are small business owners and people have lost jobs over this. … I also fear for the safety of the runners. Marathoning is a dangerous sport."
And it's not just runners who could suffer if Devine can woo volunteers back or train new volunteers by April. The local cycling community has been very supportive of the non-competitive Bike Tour.
Director of the Salt Lake City Marathon's Bike Tour, Cindy Yorgasson, said she stayed involved despite being owed $2,000 because she felt an obligation to the volunteers, and to Kerr and the Bike Tour participants.
She said the trouble started for her three years ago when one of her checks bounced. Much of the money she received from Devine went to local bike clubs who helped with the Bike Tour as a way to raise funds.
"I've talked to Scott, but I couldn't even tell you the last time I tried to call or send an email to Chris," she said. "I am concerned about this being a safe, good event. For the Bike Tour, I'm the only one who knew what I did to put it on."
Devine doesn't dispute that he's had financial problems. He said the Salt Lake Marathon didn't make money until last year.
Devine said his first order of business is hiring a new race director. He and his partner filed an application for an event permit with Salt Lake City but said they are still finalizing the 2012 course.
"We are in discussions with three people," said Devine on Tuesday night. "They are very high quality people, and we anticipate making an announcement next week."
Devine said he isn't worried about this year's marathon because after nine years, it practically runs itself.
"The race is bigger than all of us now," said Devine. "I don't want to minimize anyone's effort because the volunteers, the people who do all of the hard work, and do it consistently well, they know how to do it. If we are missing some people, we will work to replace them with other bright, knowledgeable people. We're going to bring on professionals who have a lot of experience in the industry. We built the race from zero to last year's impressive numbers."
Last year the half marathon set a record in the number of participants.
Devine said the group of unpaid bills is "a universe of four or five people. At least two of them I didn't know about. … A lot of stuff was handled directly in Salt Lake City."
The issues began, he said, when the company suffered significant losses in the Las Vegas race. His company eventually sold that race, along with several others. He currently owns two marathons and several races in the Chicago area.
Devine said owning and operating "means a lot" to him. He feels badly that some people didn't get what was owed them and that it has cast a shadow over a great event.
"Our company imploded three years ago … and it created a lot of ill will and a lot of bad press," he said. "It caused a lot of discomfort for people who shouldn't have experienced it, but we've been working the last three years to take care of those historical issues, and to try and foster growth and improve the race. … I'm not disappointed with the criticism, but we're going to continue to be dedicated to fixing things."
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