The future of the popular Salt Lake City Marathon appears to be murky after the recent resignations of its entire organizational staff in Utah amid continuing complaints by vendors who say they're still owed thousands of dollars.
Longtime race director Scott Kerr resigned on Oct. 26, saying he had "reached a point of serious concern" about how the race was being run. Since then, some two dozen mostly volunteer race planners and organizers have followed Kerr out the door.
Several of them said they're skeptical that embattled race owner Chris Devine can safely and successfully stage the ninth annual race in April, considering he appears to have no remaining staff members in place here and that several vendors have vowed not to work for him again unless they're fully paid.
"If I had to guess ... it's going to take a pretty skilled crew to get it back on track in such a short time," said Wendy Kelly, who helped organize aid stations along the race course before leaving with Kerr.
But Devine said he will provide just that.
The owner said he expects to hire a new race director from Salt Lake City by next week, and is trying to iron out some changes to the course "nothing dramatic or drastic," he said to make it "a bit more friendly" to runners.
"It would be like a head coach leaving a team," Devine said. "Where we are now is, we need a new head coach who I'm sure will engage a very competent staff."
Entries already are being accepted online for the 26.2-mile marathon and several shorter races on April 21. Last year, more than 8,600 people participated in the series of running races and a bike tour, according to race results.
But vendors have continued to complain about late, partial or missing payments from Devine and his Chicago-based company, and Kerr's resignation seemed to illustrate the extent of the long-simmering problems.
One former assistant race director is urging the city to withhold a permit for Devine to stage the race unless all its bills estimated to exceed $150,000, he said are paid by the end of the year.
"I've poured my heart and soul into it to assure it was a success and to assure the safety of the participants," Kerr said. "It is something that has been dear to me, but I reached a point of serious concern. It was important to me to feel everyone is treated fairly, whether they were my staff, the vendors or the runners. I gave it one more shot hoping things would change but it didn't."
For years, Devine has left a trail of angry runners and vendors across the country.
He has been sued at least a dozen times in the past few years, accused of running a "shell game" with his myriad marathon and radio companies, and charged in an ongoing federal lawsuit of bilking an aging multimillionaire now deceased out of $70 million.
Agents for elite athletes have steered their clients away from the Salt Lake City Marathon and other Devine events because of difficulty in getting their prize money, and the Palm Beach Post reported that two years ago, the IRS filed a series of tax liens against Devine's marathon business totaling more than $1.1 million.
The story has been the same in Utah, where vendors for years have complained about collecting from or even communicating with Devine, who they say seldom returns calls or emails. The powerful Utah Sports Commission, which helps promote events in the state, has quit working with him, and some vendors said they finally will do the same.
"We've reached a point this year where we're going to stand our ground," said Doug Coleman, of Utah Barricade, who says Devine owes him more than $10,000 for providing fencing and blockades along the course. "We will not be working with them unless a miracle happens and a check arrives before the race."
Some vendors said despite the problems in the past, they continued to work the race because they feared competitors scooping up the business and the attendant exposure. Others said they felt a loyalty to the runners or worried about looking bad if they pulled out at the last minute when promised checks did not arrive.
However, Devine said he has showed many of those vendors "loyalty" by continuing to hire the same ones year after year, and that he paid most of them upfront for their work at last year's race.
Most outstanding debts, he said, comprise "legacy debt" from a well-chronicled bad patch several years ago that he said he hopes he can pay off in another six to eight months.
"We continue to try to work through the legacy debt and continue to put on a quality event," Devine said. It's "distressing … to be chastised" for trying to do that.
"We are dedicated and devoted to that race," he added.
Not everybody feels so cherished, though.
Jon Atherton said his attorney is in the process of suing Devine over what he said is $75,000 still owed for the services of AA Sports, the race-timing company he and his wife run from Portland, Ore.
Coleman said he has not seen any of the payments that Devine told The Tribune he has sent to Utah Barricade in the past couple of weeks. Ed Pratt, of Pratt Sound, said he "hasn't seen a nickel" of the $6,500 he said Devine owes for his sound-system work at the race.
Others told similar stories.
Many of the vendors also expressed admiration for Kerr and said the race won't be the same without him.
"It's not going to be a good race," Atherton said. "It's going to be an embarrassment to the city, is what it's going to wind up being."
Former assistant race director Topher Horman wants the city to withhold its permit.
Horman said he cut his ties to the race when its money problems first surfaced several years ago, and that the odds are "slim to none" that Devine can pull off the race "in a safe fashion" next year because "no vendor in town will work with him and no experienced volunteer group in town will work with him."
The city deserves "a signature marathon not mired in insurmountable scandal, ever-worsening unpaid bills, a painful stream of broken promises to improve, and dangerous, haphazard operations," Horman said.
But a spokesman for Mayor Ralph Becker said the permit for 2012 is not in jeopardy, because the city has been paid in full for its services related to the race.
"The mayor is certainly concerned that there is not one or two but many vendors who have not been paid," spokesman Art Raymond said.
"Clearly, we would like to see somebody who is putting on a community event honor the community by paying his bills."
Becker was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
Few dispute that the race is a popular event that reflects well on the city. It's just the way it is run that bothers so many within the running and event-planning communities.
"It's a great event," Pratt said. "I just wish the guy would get his [expletive] together and pay everybody."
Derek Jensen contributed to this story.