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February 2019

Restricting Public Comments & Hiring a Private Investigator on February 2019 OC Fair Board Meeting Agenda but No Action on State Audit

Cow Question (2)

 

The agenda for the Thursday,  February 28, 2019, OC Fair Board (aka Orange County Fair and Event Center, OCFEC, 32nd District Agricultural Association) meeting has been published.  The Board meets at 9 AM at the Administration Building off Arlington Drive. If  you cannot make the meeting, please email comments to the Board Directors using the emails at the end of this post.

Agenda available here Download 19_02_February_Agenda1

Complete agenda packet available here https://ocfair.com/publicmeetings/board-of-directors-meeting-february-28-2019/

Refusing Action on State Audit Which Found Employee Paid to Not Show Up for Work 

No action can be taken by the Board regarding the 2016 state audit which found an employee paid over $70,000 to not show up for work for approximately eight months because the matter has been agendized as "Information Only" notwithstanding either the seriousness of the matter or the multiple requests by the public for action to resolve the issues which permitted this to occur. The same management are in place now as were during 2016 when the deal went down.  The Board refuses to take action to address the underlying issues which allowed these actions to occur. Download CDFA Unredacted 2016 Audit

Restricting Public Comments

New restrictions on public comment are in place for the February 2019 meeting. The new policy called a "Statement of Meeting Decorum" limits what can be said during public and agenda item comment:

[. . .] To encourage and respect all views, The OC Fair & Event Center requests that members of the public not engage in personal attacks, profanity, obscenity, hateful or abusive language, physical violence or threatening behavior. Furthermore, and to further the purposes of the Act, members of the public are requested to direct their comments directly to the Board of Directors as a whole.

It is clear that enforcement of these restrictions will violate the law. The U.S. Supreme Court specifically ruled in 1971 in Cohen v. California that governments cannot restrict speech in the interest of public decorum.  Download Cohen v. California 403 US 15

Hiring a Private Investigator

Over $58,000 was spent with private investigation firm Morley Group during 2018 without either a contract being brought forward to the Board or an explanation given of why a private investigator needed to be hired.  Morley Group is being given another no bid contract SA -051-19YR (agendized in the Standard Agreements file as "professional services" in an attempt to conceal the true nature of the contract) for $49,000 for the period from February to July 2019.  There is no need for the Morley Group contract as the OC Fairgrounds can request the Orange County Sheriff's Department, Costa Mesa Police Department, California Highway Patrol and/or other state investigative services to conduct investigations.  

Board Director Nick Berardino requested hiring an outside performance auditor and presented a report at the May 2018 Board meeting.  Download Performance Auditor Request Board Directors requested action to move ahead on a performance auditor while staff have not followed up on the request. Now is the time to bring in an outside performance auditor and request the State Auditor for assistance. If there is money for a private investigator, there is money for a performance auditor. Maybe the performance auditor can find out why the private investigator was hired and report back.

Video Recording of Meetings

Board meetings are held on Thursday mornings at 9 AM, when few people can attend.  Board intent was to look into both live streaming and recording of meetings for later playback, but the agenda says "video recording." Staff and at least one Board Director have used the specific wording of an agenda item to throttle the intentions of Board Directors on prior matters.  A push needs to be made to have live streaming of meetings and archiving of meeting records despite wishes of staff and some Board Directors to the contrary. 

Increasing Oversight of Requests for Proposals and Capital Projects

A number of surprises in requests for proposals (RFP's) and capital projects have come to light in the past few months. Several examples are:

  • Staff entered into a legally binding storm water management plan (SWMP) with the State Regional Water Quality Control Board (SRWQCB) in 2016, spent over $80,0000 on storm water consulting services, received a notice of violation for allowing runoff water from operations to enter the storm drain during 2018, and failed to let the Board know what was going on. Members of the public let the Board know about the SWMP in late 2018.
  • Nature and scope of the effort undertaken by staff to rebrand the property was unknown to several Board Directors and the public until October 2018 at which time the contract was in place and work had been started.  Staff had written the scope of work without Board or public input. The contract left out the Equestrian Center and tilted the process towards becoming an events and entertainment center.
  • Staff publicly stated that the much needed sound wall for the Action Sports Arena (ASA) was not planned to be built despite appearing in the budget for several years. Estimated costs of the sound wall are around $1 million, which is a small portion of the over $50 million in cash reserves. Staff had been leading on the Board and neighbors about building the Action Sports Arena sound wall.

Board Directors have requested to have input and oversight over how public money is spent on contracting and capital projects.  This is a good thing. 

Relocating A4 Skyhawk from Orange County Civic Center to OC Fairgrounds

Plans are being made to relocate the A4 Skyhawk currently located in the plaza at the Orange County Civic Center to the OC Fairgrounds and to place the plane near Heroes Hall Veterans Museum which would allow the plane to be used as part of the museum. Watchful eyes of the public are needed to insure that staff don't create an obstacle to this project. This is a great project. Are there other historic items which could be moved to the OC Fairgrounds?

Contact the OC Fair Board

Chair Robert Ruiz rruiz@ocfairboard.com

Vice Chair Sandra Cervantes scervantes@ocfairboard.com

Ashleigh Aitken aaitken@ocfairboard.com

Barbara Bagneris bbagneris@ocfairboard.com

Doug La Belle dlabelle@ocfairboard.com

Andreas Meyer ameyer@ocfairboard.com

Gerardo Mouet gmouet@ocfairboard.com

Newton Pham npham@ocfairboard.com

Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia nrubalcavagarcia@ocfairboard.com


State Audit of Orange County Fair and Event Center Uncovers Employee Paid to Not Show Up for Work

Toilet Paper (2)

 

This post is available as PDF. Download 2016 Audit Accountability Handout

An unredacted copy of the 2016 audit report is available. The audit was conducted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) which is the parent agency of the OC Fairgrounds (aka Orange County Fair and Event Center, OCFEC, 32nd District Agricultural Association or 32nd DAA). Download CDFA Unredacted 2016 Audit

An audit of the 32nd District Agricultural Association (32nd DAA) which operates the Orange County Fair and Event Center (OCFEC) and conducts the annual OC Fair uncovered that the 32nd DAA paid a former employee over $74,000 in wages and benefits after she stopped working for the 32nd DAA in 2016. The audit report concluded that the 32nd DAA “overpaid the employee for work that was not performed and therefore may be considered a gift of public funds”, which is prohibited by the California Constitution. Auditors recommended that while attempts should be made to recoup the funds paid, it was unlikely that the funds could be recovered from the former employee. The 32nd DAA contends that the payments were made to incentivize an employee who allegedly created a hostile work environment to leave the 32ndDAA, although no explanation has been offered as to why the employee was so incentivized and not simply terminated for creating such an environment

CEO Kathy Kramer was aware of the issues raised in the audit which included a failure to update contracting procedures to remain in compliance with statute in May 2018. The May 2018 32nd DAA Board of Directors (Board) meeting agenda included enacting new policies and procedures regarding the issues regarding contracting procedures but made no mention of payment of the over $74,000 to a no-show employee.

The public remained unaware of the audit until late 2018 when CEO Kramer placed Vice President of Finance Adam Carleton on administrative leave. Mr. Carleton is the fifth VP of Finance under CEO Kramer since her arrival at the OC Fairgrounds four years ago. Mr. Carleton alleges he was placed on administrative leave as part of the effort to conceal the audit findings of payment to an employee to not show up for work. Mr. Carleton made the public aware of the existence and findings of the audit. CEO Kramer has not offered any other reason for placing Mr. Carleton on leave, but simply denies it was for this reason. No actions have been taken relating to other senior members of the executive management team including Vice President of Operations Ken Karns and Vice President of Business Development Michele Richards despite serious problems at the Fairgrounds including critical health and safety violations going uncorrected for more than a year and the booking of controversial events which have led to problems up to, and including, a riot at the Fairgrounds.

There is a runaway administration which is trying to operate without oversight and transparency which has placed the safety of the public and financial health of the 32nd DAA at risk. Among these are:

  • Reports from the State Fire Marshal in 2016 and 2018 contained numerous violations which required correction, with many of the issues identified in the 2016 report remaining uncorrected in the 2018 report.
  • A culinary program for high school students was conducted in a kitchen where the fire suppression system was rendered effectively non-functional.
  • CEO Kramer and VP Karns signed off on over $250,000 invoices for the master site plan without receiving the deliverable items.
  • The Fairground was cited for violations of storm water discharge regulations by authorities after an inspection triggered by their washing of animal waste into the storm water system.

CEO Kramer and the management of the Orange County Fairground attempts to operate the facility with a lack of transparency that verges on outright opacity.

  • The Fairgrounds management regularly fails to provide documents requested under the California Public Records Act for months after the requests (rather than the 10 days found in the law) and makes no effort to work with requesters to streamline this process, as required by law.
  • The Fairgrounds management worked with contractors to develop a master site plan which ignored public input and proposed demolition of the Equestrian Center to create an RV park despite the Board and public expressing the need to keep the Equestrian Center, but which captured most of the wish list given to the contractors by Fairground VP Karns prior to gathering input from the public or the Board.
  • Management made a further attempt to reduce the size of the Equestrian Center to provide more space for shipping containers by misleading the Board that a parking lot adjacent to the Equestrian Center would be used for storage and did not state the Equestrian Center was targeted to become a storage area.
  • Management spent nearly $100,000 with a contractor to generate a Storm WaterManagement Plan that legally committed the Fairgrounds to certain actions without ever raising the contracts or the plans to the attention of the 32nd DAA Board that was appointed by the Governor to oversee the Fairgrounds.
  • Recently, management attempted to use state funds to pay for travel by CEO Kramer, VP Karns and VP Richards to Texas despite the ban on travel to Texas using state money due to discrimination by Texas against the LGBTQ community.

The 32nd DAA Board fails to effectively oversee the Fairgrounds, despite being charged with the authority to “manage the affairs of the association” (Food and Agriculture Code §3965(b)). The senior management of the OC Fairgrounds has convinced a number of members of the Board that they are “merely volunteers,” have only an advisory role and should not weigh in on the actions of Fairgrounds Management. These “captured” Board members facilitate the actions of Fairgrounds management, stymie the efforts of other Board Members to do their appointed job, and refuse to meet with members of the public regarding management of the 32nd DAA. Board members are well rewarded by Fairgrounds management with free catered gourmet dinners, free tickets for front row seats to headliner concerts, and free trips to meet with trade association lobbyists in addition to staff providing assistance with furthering the social lives of Board members using state funds.

About the 32nd DAA

The 32nd District Agricultural Association (32nd DAA) was formed after WW II by the state and made responsible for conducting the Orange County Fair which had been held since 1890 by private organizations. A portion of the former Santa Ana Army Air Base was purchased by the state to be utilized by the 32nd DAA. The approximately 150 acre property is currently owned and operated by the state and staffed by civil service employees and state contractors. Annual revenues of the 32nd DAA are over $48 million with operating expenses of about $39 million and cash reserves of about $50 million. The 32nd DAA uses the names “Orange County Fair and Event Center” and “OCFEC” to conduct business. A nine member Board of Directors appointed by the governor oversees the management of the property. California Department of Food and Agriculture Fairs and Expositions Branch under the Division of Marketing Services is the parent agency of the 32nd DAA.

About the Equestrian Center

The Equestrian Center at the Orange County Fair and Event Center is owned by the state and operated by a private company and features eight barns with stalls and offices and five riding arenas. Programs include therapeutic riding, Pony Club to children to learn horsemanship, OC Vaulting featuring gymnastics performed on horses, in addition to riding lessons for jumping, hunting, eventing, and English riding, among other styles. The Equestrian Center is open to the public.

About Friends and Neighbors of the Orange County Fairgrounds

Friends and Neighbors of the Orange County Fairgrounds (FANOCF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation which was formed to foster and support the operation of the Orange County Fairgrounds so as to benefit the interests of the neighboring residents and the public. FANOCF strives “For a Fair and Fairgrounds that is for, and of, Orange County”. FANOCF advocates for uses of the OCFEC property which prioritizes the needs of Orange County residents for educational, agricultural, and community based programming.

Contact the OC Fair Board

Chair Robert Ruiz rruiz@ocfairboard.com

Vice Chair Sandra Cervantes scervantes@ocfairboard.com

Ashleigh Aitken aaitken@ocfairboard.com

Barbara Bagneris bbagneris@ocfairboard.com

Doug La Belle dlabelle@ocfairboard.com

Andreas Meyer ameyer@ocfairboard.com

Gerardo Mouet gmouet@ocfairboard.com

Newton Pham npham@ocfairboard.com

Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia nrubalcavagarcia@ocfairboard.com

 


Help Us Trace $46K in Payments for OC Fairgrounds Master Site Plan Meetings

What They Arent Telling You (1)

Help us trace payments for meetings held regarding the OC Fairgrounds (aka Orange County Fair and Event Center or OCFEC)  Master Site Plan from October 2017 to  April 2018.  A total of $46,000 was spent on meetings outside of the September 2017 and April 2018 public meeting and which was not included in the original contract. Fairgrounds staff hasn't been able to explain what the $46,000 was spent on.

The companies and staff working on the project were:

C. H. Johnson Consulting: Charles Johnson

SWA: Elizabeth Shreeve

HPI Architecture: Lawrence (Larry) Frapwell, Megan Gaunce

The meetings and charges we need help with are:

Date     Payment
Additional Meetings Prior to October 2017     $6,010
October 2017  $3,673
November 2017 $4,070
December 2017 $2,628
January 2018 $10,877
February 2018 $3,600
March 2018 $5,475
April 2018 $13,668
Credit for Attending April 26, 2018 Board Meeting ($4,000)

 

If you met with the consultants between October 2017 and April 2018 outside of one of the public meetings described below, drop us a line at leadership@fansocfairgrounds.com because we want to learn more about how public money was spent. 

When Public Meetings Were Held

Public meetings were held at the September 2017 and the April 2018 Board meetings on Thursday mornings. A public workshop was held in The Hangar during June 2017.  Small group meetings for vendors, concessionaires, tenants, government entities, and community groups were held during the spring of 2017.