Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Old Wounds Mark OC Fair & Event Center Open House

Tuesday evening the Orange County Fair and Event Center (OCFEC) hosted what was billed as an Open House/Discussion at their administrative offices at the Fairgrounds.  The plan was to invite members of the community to provide input on the strengths, needs and visions for the organization.  No members of the Fair Board were present.

Consultant Bill Kelly of Kelly Associates Management Group led the discussion, supported by his wife, Christine Kelly, Executive Vice President of the business.  Their firm has been retained by the Fair Board to gather data and report back to them.  In that process, in addition to holding the meeting last night, Kelly has been interviewing every staff member and most of the members of the board.  And, no, he didn't do this with his eyes closed!  That's the best photo I could salvage.

The sparse crowd - just over 30 people attended this poorly-advertised meeting - was made up of many regulars at Fair Board meetings, some of whom were veterans of the battles to save the Fairgrounds a few years ago.  That experience has left more than a few of them with still very tender  wounds from the experience and very negative feelings about some former and current board members and senior staff.

The very informal couple hours moved briskly as Kelly followed a loose structure to guide the conversation - tossing out thoughts that generated discussions and deftly deflecting audience inquiries into further discussions.

Suggestions and comments were wide-ranging.  Some were based on personal experiences and others based on observations.  I cannot begin to cover all the comments made, but some of them included:
  • Return the equestrian area to its former footprint
  • Retain and enhance the Centennial Farm
  • A shorter Mission Statement
  • Return to "rural" roots
  • Update and follow the Master Plan for the site
  • Tone down the LED information sign
  • Reduce the noise from the Offroad/Monster Truck events
  • Provide more positive support for existing vendors/OC MarketPlace
  • Do a better job of restricting parking in surrounding neighborhoods (reduce parking costs)
  • Educate the senior staff to be more service-oriented

Kelly wrapped up his program by soliciting thoughts on what characteristics were necessary in a new CEO for the OCFEC.  Presently there is an interim CEO, but the board will soon be recruiting a new, permanent person to run the operations.  Kelly was unsure of the process - the CEO is a state employee, so the recruitment process may be significantly encumbered by the bureaucratic requirements.  Among the attributes offered by the audience were:
  • Should come from an agricultural background
  • Should understand how to operate in a state government environment
  • Should be a "people person"
  • Should be multi-lingual (Spanish or Vietnamese) to better communicate with segments of the community
  • Should be a true leader
  • Should have experience managing a diverse organization.
  • Should understand Orange County
So, Kelly will now compile the results of this meeting and fold it into his report involving other interviews and observations and present it to the Fair Board in the April/May time frame.  Residents were encouraged to provide more input to Kelly by email if they choose to do so.  His email is:  Bill Kelly -

It was very clear last night that there are many festering wounds within the community that pays attention to Fairgrounds issues.  These will only heal when a new, trustworthy leader is selected to run the organization who will implement some of the reforms they feel are necessary.  It will be very interesting to watch this unfold.

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