Mayor calls on Fish Day to dissolve if it won’t host Port festival

Neitzke says it’s unfair for group to retain rights to event when others want to take over tradition

A family enjoyed Fish Day's signature food, fish and chips, during last year's festival in port Washington's Veterans Park. Ozaukee Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington Mayor Ted Neitzke on Tuesday said that if the Fish Day Board of Directors doesn’t have the ability to hold the annual festival, it should dissolve Port Fish Day Inc. and allow others to run the event.

“I ask that they take it off the shelf and give me and others around the community the chance to breathe new life into this,” Neitzke said. “There are people right now who want to do something. Give us the opportunity. I don’t think it’s fair to say we’re not going to have this tradition.

“I’m not looking for an argument or a battle. I’m looking at strategies and solutions. I’ll provide the leadership to get it moving, build the team and then get out of their way.”

The city, he pledged, “will do everything we can to support a tradition that brings everyone home.”

Fish Day, Neitzke said, is more than just a festival. It’s a way for civic organizations to earn the money they invest in the community, a time when families and high school classes hold reunions and when memories are created.

That, he said, is why it needs to continue.

“I feel it’s our responsibility because it’s such a part of our identity,” Neitzke told the Common Council.

The Fish Day board announced two weeks ago the festival would “sunset” this year, with organizers saying they planned to retain the corporation, nonprofit status and name while placing it on hiatus.

The reasons, they said, are many and include difficulty raising the money to put on such a large event and a lack of volunteers to organize the festival and operate the fish and beverage stands.

“We’ve been batting this around for quite some time,” Mary Monday, who has been chairman of the Fish Day board since 1993, said in making the announcement. “This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to any one thing.

“At this juncture, we’re just going to listen to what the community has to say and what the city has to say. Down the road, we will see what direction it will take.”

Neitzke said he was blindsided by the Fish Day board’s announcement that the festival would be cancelled this year and potentially into the future, adding that he would have done everything in his power to ensure the event would continue.

“The city was never brought in the early stages,” he said. “Nobody outside of the Fish Day board knew how bad it was. Everywhere I go, people ask what’s going on with Fish Day?

“I don’t know how we got to this point.”

Since the announcement was made, Neitzke said, “no less than a dozen well-connected people have come up to me and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ People are saying, ‘I’ll do this. I’ll commit to that.’”

Sometimes, he said, it takes being on the verge of losing something for people to realize its value, and this may be one of those instances.

Fish Day, he noted, has been a part of the community’s lifeblood for more than 50 years, and everyone in the community benefits from its impact, whether they attend the festival or not, because it has helped civic organizations fund such things as Rotary Park.

Neitzke, who said he has not talked to Fish Day representatives about his “challenge” to them, said many people are blaming the city for the demise of the festival.

He noted that the city has supported Fish Day throughout its history, adding that when it began the city provided the initial $3,000 seed money to host the event.

“This was really important once upon a time, and it still is today,” he said, noting that sum was .2% of the city’s annual budget at the time — about $90,000 today.

He said he has reviewed the costs the city charged Fish Day in recent years, the majority for police protection, adding they are not out of line.

“We are exactly where everyone else in the county is,” he said.

But, Neitzke said, he has asked that the city consider a sliding scale for the fees it charges for new events run by nonprofit groups, perhaps waiving them the first year, charging 30% in year two, 60% in year three and 100% after that.

In the meantime, he asked that anyone interested in bringing Fish Day back contact him.

“I don’t know if it can be brought back for this year,” he said. “We’ve got to come together to find a solution. Let’s move forward.”


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login