Thursday, April 26, 2012

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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!

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!

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Anonymous Robert The Drake said...


The thing I didn't understand was why Greg Ridge acted as though Byron was still working for the Fair and his comments in the Daily Pilot represented the opinions of the Fair board and/or staff?

Greg knows Byron hasn't worked for the Fair for over six months, and yet he used Byron's comments to stir up controversy.

A lot of bad behavior on all sides.

4/26/2012 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Robert The Drake,
I didn't, either. For a minute there I thought I was going to have to tackle him and drag him away from the podium.;-)

Yes, there was PLENTY of bad behavior to go around at the meeting.

Jerome Hoban is going to have his work cut out for him, for sure.

4/26/2012 10:54:00 PM  
Blogger Tina Wilcox Gold said...

I don't agree that selling the place would be a good idea. For one thing, it would make way for many more ugly behavior over what sort of completely transformed neighborhood would be like. So much of this neighborhood is built around the fairgrounds as a destination. To me it is a major part of Costa Mesa's identity. If it goes, and we become another Irvine, why not rename the place Irvine Jr.?

I would like to hear a discussion of how to best use the facilities during the 11 months the fair isn't there. I know this means more WWF, but it'll happen no matter the subject.

4/27/2012 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Robert the Drake said...

Tina, you might want to check out what actually happens during the other 11 months of the year. The fairgrounds is busy every weekend and those who attend those events seem to have a pretty good idea of how to best use the facilities.

4/27/2012 02:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Byron de Arakal said...

Dude...I need to get you a new picture!

4/27/2012 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Fox guarding the henhouse said...

“I hope the state retains ownership of the fairgrounds and we give everyone on the grounds enough government to choke a horse.”
Fair Board Trustee/President - DAVE ELLIS - 2009 Comment. Wholesale condemnation toward everyone opposing the Sale of the property he was appointed trustee of.
Trustees have certain duties (some of which are fiduciary).
These include the duty to:
-Carry out the expressed terms of the trust instrument
-Defend the trust
-Prudently invest trust assets
-Be impartial among beneficiaries
-Account for actions and keep beneficiaries informed
-Be loyal
-Not delegate
-Not profit
-Not be in a conflict of interest position
-Administer in the best interest of the beneficiaries.

This man needs to answer for his abuse of the trust.

4/28/2012 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Katherine Petersen said...

Geoff,as someone in our community that has always bravely voiced their concerns against the questionable behavior of others,I was dismayed by the comment you made that consider perhaps the OC Fair and Event center would best be sold,This is a community center for over the millions of people who attend the various programs and events held there,selling this asset is in no way different than selling our beaches ,parks,and other public treasures.It is necessary that this sale process is fully understood and investigated so that more of this type of behavior is eliminated.Worthwhile undertakings are usually not easy but necessary and in this case it is extremely curious that those who MAY have been responsible are the most outspoken against exposing the truth.If there is nothing to hide then wouldn't you if you were a board member at the fairgrounds want to be exonerated once and for all? It is evident to those that have been following this saga, that one way or another the facts will come out and the delays just add to the wide held perception of guilt.

4/29/2012 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger O/CCharlie said...

Is Ellis' personal gain really more important than the future generations who will participate, learn, enjoy and grow up with the Fairs?
He's fighting like mad to stop this investigation. What is he afraid of, Jail Time?
I've followed this story for the last couple years and it seems there is more to the story and it centers around the small group that pushed for the sale, including Mr. E.
I'm all for the investigation of the O/C Fairgrounds. It is an important PUBLIC Property. It belongs to the People and should remain that way!

4/29/2012 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger O/CCharlie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/29/2012 11:54:00 AM  

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