Fair Board Like A WWF Match!
OK, I'm not a big WWF fan, but attending Fair Board meetings is clearly going to be like going to one of those events in person! Geez!
I attended the most recent Fair Board meeting this morning and found it to be enlightening, to say the very least. Suffice it to say that it's a darn good thing that fifteen feet and a big conference table separate new members Nick Berardino and Stan Tkaczyk from hold-over member Dave Ellis and his new pal, Ali Jahangiri. A couple times during the two and half hour meeting I found myself wondering why we just didn't adjourn to the parking lot and let those guys go at it.
As expected, the recent spate of Daily Pilot articles - three of them - that appeared in one edition caused much controversy. Speakers before the Board took exception to how some of the information had been presented regarding the costs of keeping horses at the Equestrian Center. The writer of the article, Jon Cassidy, and the Editor of the Pilot, John Canalis, both were present and heard the complaints. It's my understanding that a correction will be published soon.
ASSUME ELLIS WAS "THE SOURCE"
Beyond that, it was clear from the heated discussion between Berardino and Ellis - with Tkaczyk occasionally chiming in - that the source of the information was most likely Ellis.
The second article dealt with the decision by the State Attorney General to step away - again - from the Fair Board as a "client", requiring the board to seek outside legal counsel. Apparently the AG is unhappy that there remains on-going turmoil about the proposed sale of the fairgrounds by certain members of the board three years ago. Lame duck CEO Steve Beazley explained the chain of events and correspondence that led to the AG rejecting the Fair Board. In fact, on the agenda today was an item about the forming of a committee to investigate the whole sale mess. More on that in a minute.
"WORKER" PUBLIC ART DISCUSSED
The first agenda item under "Governance Process" dealt with Nick Berardino's suggestion that there should be some kind of public art commemorating the contribution of agricultural workers to the growth and development of Orange County. A very professional presentation was made by staffer Joan Hamill, showing examples of such art and describing probable methods of making a selection. After a short discussion Chair Joyce Tucker appointed Berardino and Tkaczyk as a committee to get the ball rolling and report back to the Board at a future meeting.
FAIR SALE REVIEW COMMITTEE
The second item was the review and approval of the scope of work for the Fair Sale Review Committee and to provide direction regarding the appointment of committee members. It all began smoothly, with Berardino announcing the names of various members submitted by community organizations that were involved. The Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce had not been contacted yet, but would be, plus the chairwoman still had to name two at-large members from the community. Apparently, from a comment she later made, two retired judges had declined positions in this organization. At this point things really got interesting.
ELLIS TRYING TO KILL THE INVESTIGATION
By the nature of questions raised by Ellis - a person who logically would be one of the subjects of any investigation into the fair sale - it was clear to most observers that his intent was to encumber the process to the point that the group would be unable to do the job. He presented the Board with a list (which he described as a "partial list") of 71 individuals he felt should be interrogated by the committee to get to the bottom of the issue. Besides himself and every other then-sitting Board member, it included state and federal legislators, county officials, elected city officials (past and present), other bidders on the property, consultants involved in the process and many, many more. Ellis also raised the question of the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting law, indicating that this committee must be guided by the rules of that law. He also suggested that every member should be required to complete financial disclosure forms. As he indelicately put it, "You know what I make, now I want to know what you make." That comment set the tone for the "discussion". During one heated exchange Berardino accused Ellis of trying to stop the committee, stating, "I think you're hiding something!" Newby Ashleigh Aitken helped un-muddy the water when it came time to vote specifically on the Scope Of Work segment, which eventually passed unanimously.
JAHANGIRI PROPOSES CHAOS
Then more jockeying about the participants on the committee ensued. Member Ali Jahangiri threw a monkey wrench into the works by demanding that committee membership should be open to anyone and everyone! Berardino reminded him that all this had been hashed out at a meeting he failed to attend and that such a request would make it virtually impossible for the committee to function. I saw just the slightest glimmer of a smile on Ellis' face... The Board rejected that irrational request and resolved to have a total of 5 "at-large" members on the committee, up from two, and that Chair Tucker would appoint them. Eventually, after much public comment, the Board voted to move forward with the committee as recommended plus the additional at-large positions and a pending contact with the Chamber of Commerce. Only Ellis voted no.
No provision has been made for legal guidance for this committee, no budget has been discussed and - despite several pleas by proposed members - the Board did not approve a mechanism to extend the life of this committee beyond the original 120 days. If, in fact, Ellis' list of 71 names is just a starting point and if each of them must be interrogated to reach a decision AND if the Board and other entities will be required to provide the documents demanded by at least one member, I fear this committee will simply be spinning it's wheels and is doomed to failure.
SOME MEMBERS ARE BAILING OUT ALREADY
A sidebar... some of the proposed members of the committee were in attendance at this meeting. This afternoon I've been advised that some of them may be having second thoughts and will withdraw from participation. It's hard to blame them after watching this disfunctional display this morning. Chair Tucker had that perpetual "deer in the headlights" look on her face, failed to control the discussion didn't provide any leadership that I saw. That's too bad.
PACIFIC AMPHITHEATRE RENOVATION DELAYED
The final item on the open session agenda was the presentation of the proposed remodel of the Pacific Amphitheatre. It was a short presentation because the staff, after reviewing all the elements, have decided that it is just not possible to pull everything together - and find the money to perform this renovation - in order to begin this fall. They asked, and the Board agreed, to extend the time for them to do further analysis. By the way, the plans look GREAT!
BYRON MAY BE RIGHT
So, another interesting morning in the land of Newport-Mesa is under my prodigious belt. This one was certainly an exercise in frustration - like watching a ship steam at full speed through stormy waters without a firm hand on the rudder. The residents of our county deserve better... Maybe my friend, Byron de Arakal - who was quoted extensively by one speaker today - is right. Maybe we SHOULD just sell the place!