Regarding recent discussions on the Hodag and its historical and cultural association with the Rhinelander community and its heritage
A community in lower Michigan, which has a heritage rich with forestry, logging, and lumberjacks, not dissimilar to Rhinelander, also has folklore in its past regarding the hodag (please note the intentional use of the small “h”). This community is in the process of organizing a fall festival for 2020 and they are also considering using the hodag as part of the theme for their event. About a month ago, a representative from this community reached out to Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lauren Sackett. This gentleman indicated his community’s desire to establish a relationship with Rhinelander in advance of their festival. The specifics of what such a relationship would look like is currently unclear.
The Chamber decided to refer this representative to me. We had an initial conversation. I indicated to him I would consult with community leaders about their interest and return his call, later this month. I then consulted the management team of the City as to how I should advise the Common Council. This consultation included the City’s Historical Complex Director, Kerry Bloedorn. Executive Director Lauren Sackett was present for the conversation.
After some preliminary analysis and background research, I presented the issue to the Common Council to ask for their guidance and direction. I advised them what I had learned. There were tradenames and trademarks registered in Wisconsin for the Hodag. I advised them that there were no federal protections for either a trademark, tradename, or any associated intellectual property related to the Hodag, which was held by any person or institution in the Rhinelander community. This raised an interesting question of public policy.
“What protections, if any, does the Rhinelander community want to invest in, to protect the heritage, legend, mascot, association, trademark, and tradenames associated with the Hodag in a global society, where anyone could file for the ownership of these items with the federal government?”
My advice and reports have generated considerable discussion on social media recently. There is a lot of misunderstanding about the recent discussion with the Common Council and the direction they gave to me on the evening of Monday, October 28. It is my desire to clarify this discussion, the Council’s directive, and what next steps the City will be taking.
First, the City does not, and has never had any legal control of the Hodag, its story, its image, etc. What limited legal ownership does exist is currently held with the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce. Chamber members are allowed to use the tradename and trademark image of the Hodag as part of their Chamber membership privileges. The Chamber announced that their organization will begin looking into further legal protections for the Hodag. As a result, the City does not plan to be investigating more into this topic. If anyone has any questions about the legality of the Hodag, and the use of its image and legends, please contact Executive Director Lauren Sackett at the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce. All City staff and elected officials have been advised to do the same.
Second, I asked the Council for direction on whether and to what degree I should dialogue with the community from Michigan about their interest in using the Hodag. I was directed to resume contact, learn more about their intentions, and to be ‘friendly’ with them. That is the sole extent of the directive the Council gave to me. I will be contacting the Michigan community later this week. I will hear what their representative has to say. I will be reporting back to the Common Council on my conversation. After this sequence of event are completed, I will refer the Michigan community to other community institutions and stakeholders for further discussion.
Until the Common Council provides clear guidance and direction on this topic to the contrary, the City does not plan to be expending time and resources on this issue. The City has no legal authority to stop another community outside of Wisconsin from using the Hodag. The City does not have the authority to give the Hodag away either. The Hodag (please note the intentional use of the capital “H”) and its heritage belong to the greater Rhinelander community, which transcends the City as one of its local government agencies, and the political boundaries of the City of Rhinelander. Whether it is deemed advantageous for the Rhinelander community to establish a relationship with the Michigan community is a decision for more stakeholders than just the Common Council and those of us who work here in City Hall.
Earlier this evening, a Rhinelander news agency suggested they learned the name of the community in Michigan and reported it. I will not confirm whether this is the correct community or not at this time. However, I want to make it clear that not revealing the name of the Michigan community was entirely intentional so that local leaders could consider these questions before individuals decided to take it upon themselves to have these discussions while styling themselves dishonestly as a community ambassador. For a local new media outlet to attempt to out this information for the benefit of a one-time news story versus the considering the issues regarding protecting the identity and heritage of the community for 100+ years was incredibly short-sighted. It was not consistent with our community’s values. I hope that local businesses which utilize this news agency for advertising will consider this company’s actions and judge them accordingly when considering their future purchases. Speaking for myself, I certainly find the behavior bereft of moral clarity and community pride. Shame on them.
To reiterate, at this time, the City is referring questions and concerns on this topic to the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Lauren Sackett. Thank you for your attention to this correspondence and providing the City with an opportunity to clarify this issue.
-Daniel Guild, Rhinelander City Administrator