Gut Punch, Then Hug For Fairgrounds Employees
This is a follow-up to my earlier post today on the meetings held with current employees of the Orange County Fairgrounds. My earlier post, based on news reports and skimpy interviews, was published before the first meeting had concluded and the second one commenced.
STATE OFFICIALS LOWERED THE BOOM
As stated earlier today, State personnel officials conducted a meeting at which the current employees of the Fairgrounds were given official notice that they would only have their jobs for 120 days and that they were eligible to seek other State employment. That was a real pre-Christmas gut punch for those 82 employees who have been whipsawed over the past couple years as the Fairgrounds Sale drama unfolded.
FIRST CHANCE FOR FMW TO MEET WITH EMPLOYEES
Following that meeting spokespersons for Facilities Management West also met with most of the group. According to Guy Lemmon, who was the primary spokesman for FMW at the meeting, this was the first time his organization has been permitted to speak with Fairgrounds employees, although they had tried to have such a meeting for many months. He was eager to meet with the employees personally and tell them, first-hand, of their plans.
LEMMON - "EVERY ONE OF THEM HAVE A JOB WITH US"
According to Lemmon, at the meeting with the employees he emphasized to them that everyone of them (except current CEO Steve Beazley) will have a job with FMW if they want it - assuming they're not a criminal. All they have to do is fill out an application - no interviews, no screening - the job is theirs for the taking. He also emphasized that their pay level will be what it was BEFORE the 4.60% cut they took earlier this year. Lemmon said he also told the employees that they would also have health insurance - not their current state plan, but some level of insurance that is compatible with their current coverage.
BECKY BAILEY-FINDLEY TO LEAD TRANSITION TEAM
In a press release issued simultaneously with the meeting FMW announced that former Fairgrounds CEO Becky Bailey-Findley will lead their transition team and will help select and train the permanent CEO. This should have been good news for the employees, since Bailey-Findley led them as CEO for several years.
WHIPLASH FOR FAIR EMPLOYEES
I have not spoken with anyone who attended that meeting except Lemmon, but I imagine his presentation to them - which lasted more than an hour, and longer for those who lingered to chat and give him hugs - softened the punch in the gut delivered coldly by the State representatives a couple hours earlier. On the one hand the State tells them they are out of a job in 120 days and then, in the other, Facilities Management West tells them they ALL can keep their jobs at a pay increase once FMW takes over. I suspect Christmas will be just a little better for most of those folks.
BEAZLEY NOT OFFERED A JOB
Back to Beazley... I spoke with him earlier today immediately following the first meeting. He indicated that he, indeed, was among those employees given the word about the potential loss of their jobs. He also indicated that he will be permitted to apply for his job with FMW but was not encouraged that he would be retained. I don't know what his plans are, but he indicated he's weighing all his options now.
SALE STALLED UNTIL 12/15/10 - AT LEAST
The sale of the Fairgrounds to Facilities Management West is stalled until a court hearing on December 15th, so we really don't know what the future holds from that standpoint. FMW will file the appropriate paperwork for that hearing later this week.
During my conversation with Lemmon tonight, and in his earlier press release, he emphasized FMW's commitment to protecting the Fair and Centennial Farm and continuing the swap meet, equestrian center and the Pacific Amphitheater. I pressed him on the "swap meet" issue, since at no time did he refer to it as the "MarketPlace". Jeff Teller, operator of the Orange County MarketPlace, is one of the folks involved in the lawsuit that has stalled the sale of the Fairgrounds. Lemmon would only say that they are committed to having a swap meet at the site. He also emphasized to me their intention to make the whole Fairgrounds experience better for visitors, but declined to go into specifics.
PROPERTY TAX IMPACT
He also indicated that one factor of this sale that seems to have been completely overlooked by the media is the financial impact on our region. Although the dollars are not what the City of Costa Mesa would have received had the earlier deal gone through, the Fairgrounds in private hands now means very significant Property Tax dollars that were not realized while it was owned by the State.
WHAT ABOUT THE FAIR ITSELF?
Still pending are completion of negotiations with the current Fair Board about the personal and intellectual property involved with the Fair itself. It is FMW's hope to reach an agreement with the Fair Board on the operation of the Fair since the Fair itself is an activity owned by the Fair Board. The sale of the Fairgrounds as described in the current Request For Proposals - known as RFP II - is only for the real property, not the businesses at the site.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO THE EMPLOYEES
So, the turmoil around the Orange County Fair and Event Center continues but at least the employees, who have been whipsawed for more than a year, can rest just a little easier knowing that they will have a job. Following the gut punch delivered by the State earlier today, it was nice for them to have it replaced by a kind hand on the shoulder. That's a nice early Christmas present for them all.
NOW WE SIT AND WAIT FOR DECEMBER 15TH...
The rest of us can only sit and wait for the results of the December 15th hearing to see which way the road will turn on the path to a sale. As always, I'll let you know more when I know more.
DEL MAR APPROVES RESOLUTION TO PURCHASE FAIRGROUNDS
In a kind of related story, tonight the Del Mar City Council approved a resolution to purchase the Del Mar Fairgrounds for $120 million, with $75 million up front in cash! Yikes! You can read all about it HERE and view a YouTube video produced by opponents below.