Jeanne Bowen lives in Elkhart County. Her youngest daughter is a 2013 graduate of Concord High School.
Friday’s article, “Public upset over Wellfield admission charge,” prompted me to share this recent encounter about the admission charges.
At 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 12, my daughter and a photographer/friend met to take her senior photographs. One of the several venues we planned to use was the Wellfield Botanic Gardens. The $5 admission fee seemed reasonable for the less than one hour they would be at the WBG before it closed at 5 p.m. Imagine my surprise when my daughter returned and reported that, when they arrived at the visitors’ cottage, the staffer observed that our friend had a “professional-looking camera” and asked if he was a professional photographer. When he replied, “Yes,” he was told that he would have to pay $50 in order to be admitted for less than one hour’s use of the gardens.
Too late to make alternative plans for another venue, they paid the fee.
Upon learning of this encounter, I searched the WBG website but was unable to find any information about the professional photographer’s fee. I called the WBG and spoke with treasurer Kim Clarke. When I inquired about the cost of admission, she discussed only the $5 daily fee and the various membership rates. When specifically asked about the $50 daily fee/$250 annual fee for professional photographers, she informed me that the policy was proposed in January but was not approved and implemented by the WBG Board of Directors until March because of differences of opinion on the board. Further revisions to the policy were still being considered.
Although the fee was not posted on the WBG website or in the visitors’ cottage, she assured me that the staff was aware of the policy and was now enforcing it. When asked about the method being used to identify “professional photographers,” she admitted that it was a “guess” and a subjective judgment by the staffer, who used visual cues to decide whether a camera appeared to be of “professional” quality. She admitted that there were “many gray areas” in the policy’s enforcement. She also acknowledged that it was not until the cottage was completed, effectively barring access to the WBG except through the cottage, that the organization was able to enforce the current admission fees.
In response to my request to speak with either the board chair or the director, WBG director Eric Amt called me. I reviewed with him the May 12 experience. I requested a copy of the policy and asked that he consider refunding $45 to the photographer. During the course of our conversation, Mr. Amt told me that the professional photographers’ fees were reasonable and consistent with fees charged by similar organizations. He also shared his opinion that professional photographers were destructive of property, often breaking tree branches and trampling plantings.
On May 22, Mr. Amt sent me the current photo policy. In the email, he stated, “… it is in revision, along with the current policy application. When the policy has been approved, it will be place (sic) on the Gardens’ website, in print form, and posted in the Gardens’ Visitors Cottage.” He did not reply to the request for a refund to the photographer.
My follow-up emails to him on May 23 and May 28 were unanswered. I sent a third request for a reply June 1. Mr. Amt’s complete reply to me on June 3 was this: “You are not a donor, you are not a member, you are not a volunteer to Wellfield Botanic Gardens. Your sense of entitlement and pettiness are an affront to the hundreds of people who have devoted thousands of hours of their time and talent to create a worthwhile and beneficial community project. Daily professional photographers fee — $50. Annual professional photographers fee — $250.”
I do not think that WBG membership or service should be a prerequisite to receiving a civil reply to a request.
While I do not dispute the right of the WBG to establish policies regarding admission, I think that charging fees that are 1) not publicized or approved in final form by the governing board and 2) based upon a “guess” and a subjective assessment by a staff member is unethical and a poor business practice. Of note, the professional photographer fee policy still has not been published on the WBG website as of July 16.
As a result of the treatment I received, I will not be visiting or promoting the WBG in the foreseeable future.