With her lawsuit against the Independence Chamber of Commerce resolved, the chamber's former vice president who oversaw the annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival has stepped aside.
Lois McDonald joined the chamber staff in May 2013, chiefly to organize the Labor Day weekend on the Independence Square that serves as the chamber's largest fundraiser. She continued on staff even after filing an age-discrimination suit against the chamber in August 2017, alleging that she received a $30,000 pay cut while no other female employee had a wage reduction and other female employees received some perks or work opportunities not afforded to her.
Many of the complaints in the suit had been directed at former chamber President and CEO Hap Graff, who retired from that position in late 2017.
According to court records, McDonald dismissed the claims in February, though McDonald said that came after the two sides reached an undisclosed settlement and “the parting was amiable.”
“There's going to be a lot of things I'll miss at the chamber and working there, but I have joined as a member,” said McDonald, who previously had been a pediatric nurse and small business owner and has long been a community activist.
Current President and CEO Tom Lesnak said McDonald deserves great credit for leaving Santa-Cali-Gon in better shape than she took it. The festival's financial success, even as a free event for attendees, helped the chamber become debt free last year.
“She came in at a point when both the festival and the chamber were at a pivotal point, and she got the festival back on solid footing,” Lesnak said.
McDonald kept the vendor list strong despite prior departures and the some vendors aging out, he said, “and she was good at identifying top-level talent (for entertainment), which not only brings attendees but vendors.”
McDonald said she didn't have a prior history with Santa-Cali-Gon, “but I had transferable skills, and it was ripe with good people that were very much committed to it.”
Among the festival aspects McDonald said have improved: creating a festival website and online registration, improved communication with city hall, creating a designated food court and vendor overnight parking and partnering with Rockhurst University students one year for a demographics study that will help organizers for years going forward.
“Just the stability, knowing things were taken care of,” Lesnak said, regarding the toughest thing in replacing McDonald. “She was very meticulous. But we've had people on staff work with her on organizing the festival, and Lois left it on a very positive end.”