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Fundraiser that somehow lost money is source of turmoil among Vicksburg officials

Vicksburg Water tower

VICKSBURG, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – A “Speakeasy” fundraiser, designed to raise money to improve and beautify downtown Vicksburg, came under criticism after an auditing firm found the fundraiser did not raise any money, but rather, “cost a considerable amount.”

Through a Freedom of Information Act Request the I-Team obtained expense reports, emails and questionnaires showing how the “Speakeasy Fundraiser” lost money, and eventually caused turmoil among officials, both public and private in Vicksburg.

The I-Team was first tipped off to the criticisms of the fundraiser from an anonymous email.

The fundraiser was originally organized by the Vicksburg Downtown Development Authority (DDA), led by now-former DDA Director Kathleen Hoyle, as a way to promote the village’s “Vision Campaign” to beautify downtown Vicksburg, improve streetscapes, nature trails and parking.

The I-Team obtained receipts and expense records showing the how money was spent by the DDA on the fundraiser, which encouraged 700 invitees to “dress to impress in finest 1920s garb”.

Approximately $1,400 was spent on roulette tables, casino chips, dealers and other casino related equipment, and in keeping with the “Speakeasy” theme, the DDA went as far as to hire someone to teach 1920’s dance styles.

Almost $900 was spent on approximately 700 invitations, although it’s not clear how many people actually attended the event.

According to the audit, “private invitations were sent to specific residents…” and “Public money was used to purchase food, alcohol and prizes.”

Through a FOIA request, the I-Team also learned Hoyle admitted no liquor license was obtained, leading to drinks being given for free --- adding to the overhead of the event.

In an email to Newschannel 3, Hoyle issued several statements about the much criticized “Speakeasy” fundraiser.

“The event did not use any public money to our knowledge,” she wrote.

Officials in Vicksburg, speaking to the I-Team on the condition of anonymity, dispute Hoyle’s claim.

Hoyle also described the DDA as a “separate entity” and spoke of the DDA’s current financial position.

“The annual audits for the last two years show a positive cash flow and conformance to the DDA approved budgets, something the Board has worked hard toward with great success.”

According to documents detailing DDA contracts and payments, Hoyle made approximately $60,000 a year as DDA director.

Hoyle’s time as DDA director was marked by a flurry of activity appearing to create projects to improve Vicksburg, but emails provided to Newschannel 3 also show frustration and accused Hoyle of blaming others for budget overages.

“I’m appalled,” wrote a former DDA member, in an email obtained the I-Team. “My money could be so much better spent. Give most of it to the gallery, which actually brings people to the village and hire a citizen of the Village for the director,” the former DDA member added.

Hoyle is a resident of Portage.

In an email responding to the criticisms of the former board member, Hoyle defended herself and the DDA.

“The Village Treasurer and DDA Treasurer handled the accounting records, monthly reporting and were responsible for the numbers,” she wrote. “No one forced them to use any numbers they didn’t feel were accurate.”

Several village officials and council members confirmed to Newschannel 3 that Hoyle eventually resigned from the DDA. Her resignation occurred around the same time when the Vicksburg audit was officially released to the public.

Hoyle said she stepped aside to pursue other projects.

“I am a contracted employee and I put in two and half weeks’ notice…” she wrote in an email to Newschannel 3.

Hoyle has since been hired as Parks Director for the City of Portage.

As for the overall audit, the village did receive a passing grade, although the council has voted to accept criticisms and make changes where necessary.

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