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

$75K Paid to Employee to Not Show Up for Work at OC Fairgrounds Requires OC Fair Board to Clean House

Toilet Paper (2)

The OC Fair Board (aka 32nd District Agricultural Association or 32nd DAA or Orange County Fair and Event Center or OCFEC Board) will meet on March 28, 2019, to consider taking action regarding the 2016 audit of the OC Fairgrounds conducted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the parent state agency of the OC Fairgrounds. The audit found an employee paid over $75,000 in cash and benefits to not show up for work for about eight months, which was deemed to likely be an illegal contract by CalHR, the human resources department for state employees. An unredacted copy of the audit is available for download. An audit timeline prepared by CEO Kathy Kramer and her staff was presented at the February 2019 Fair Board meeting. CEO Kramer and her staff have attempted to create confusion and obstruction around the audit all while stalling Board action on the audit for nearly two years. 

Download CDFA Unredacted 2016 Audit   

Download Audit Staff-Reports-Combo1 

Understanding the facts about the the audit and why the Fair Board needs to clean house immediately can be broken down into four separate issues:
Issue 1: The propriety of the actions that resulted in the conclusion by CDFA and CalHR that the 32nd DAA entered into an illegal contract with a former employee.
Issue 2: The handling of the audit and interactions with CDFA and CalHR.
Issue 3: The disclosure of the audit to the Board and the failure to keep the Board in the loop regarding the audit.
Issue 4: Failure to accept the findings of the audit and address the issues raised.

CEO Kramer wants to confuse and conflate these four issues so that everyone will focus on Issue 1, and ignore the circumstances regarding Issues 2, 3, and 4, and what they say about her management of the OCFEC.

Issue 1: The propriety of the actions that resulted in the conclusion by CDFA and CalHR that the 32nd DAA entered into an illegal contract with a former employee.
CEO Kramer continues to try to re-litigate the propriety of her and staff's actions and characterize them as a mistake involving state employment procedures. This is a false narrative, intended to confuse the Board and others.

  • CEO Kramer made the same arguments to CalHR and they rejected them. CalHR has concluded that the contract is likely an illegal gift of funds.
  • CEO Kramer claims that prior outside counsel approved similar agreements, but has not provided such agreements to demonstrate that they were approved or comparable. Despite this, the Board accepts her unsupported claim that similar prior arrangements had been approved. Given the seriousness of these allegations, the Board should demand documentary proof of the defense.

CEO Kramer has attempted to portray paying an employee to not show up for work as a minor administrative matter, which the issue is not. This is a matter regarding misappropriation of public funds. Misappropriation of Government Funds is a felony in California (Cal. Penal Code §424), if done with knowledge of, or gross negligence regarding, the illegality of the appropriation or the lack of authority of the person making the appropriation to do so.

  • CEO Kramer was grossly negligent in that she did not take the least action to verify that this separation agreement was legal. She never sought the opinion of CalHR, or of the Attorney General's office, either one of which could have been done with a five minute phone call.
  • The separation agreement resulted in a cost to the 32nd DAA which exceeded Kramer's delegated authority, i.e., she knowingly made the misappropriation despite the fact that she knew she lacked the authority to do so.

Issue 2: The handling of the audit and interactions with CDFA and CalHR.
There is a substantial and unexplained gap in the timeline of this audit. CEO Kramer attempted to stiff-arm and delay the audit. Only when she know longer had any choice was the audit completed. This is not the behavior of a CEO who is cooperating with state officials.

The Board needs to get an explanation for gaps in the timeline and receive and review all communications or the lack thereof, between CDFA and the 32nd DAA to determine if CEO Kramer's interaction with the CDFA was in keeping with the standards that the Board would expect of the 32nd DAA's CEO.

Issue 3: The disclosure of the audit to the Board and the failure to keep the Board in the loop regarding the audit.
It is unacceptable that an audit uncovered a provisional finding of a major impropriety and this was not brought to the immediate attention of the entire Board. This calls into question the fitness of the former Board chairperson, who still sits on the Board to hold the position.

The Board needs to understand why two Board Chairs did not share this information with the entire Board membership and correct policies and guidelines to ensure that such critical information is not, in the future, hidden from the Board. 

The Board needs to find out why CEO Kramer did not disclose the final findings of the audit to the entire Board prior to her annual performance review. Willful failure to disclose such highly relevant information to the Board is suspicious and calls into question the ability of the Board to rely on the CEO to provide them with ALL information that they need to perform their oversight function.

Issue 4: Failure to accept the findings of the audit and address the issues raised.

The failure of CEO Kramer to accept the findings of CalHR and to continue to argue the propriety of the finding is indicative of someone who lacks the ability to recognize failures and take corrective action.

While all of the focus has been on the misappropriation of public funds, the audit made a fourth recommendation:
The 32nd DAA should comply with FAC 4051 by establishing written policies and procedures over its contracting processes.

Cal. Food & Agr. Code §4051 directs the 32nd DAA Board to establish and maintain written procedures for contracting. There is ample reason to recognize that current procedures are inadequate or not being applied:

  • There are multiple examples of expenditures of funds by the CEO and her staff which violate the established delegation of authority.
  • There have been identified examples of unilateral and retroactive changes to contract terms by the CEO without Board direction or knowledge.
  • The CEO has initiated and supported agreements that do not appear to be in the best interest of the state or which violate state policies or state law.
  • The amount of charges o the state authorized credit card (more than $2.3 million in 2018) raises serious questions as to whether state rules of the use of the card are being followed.

State law grants the Board authority over the affairs of the association and can make all necessary bylaws, rules, and regulations for the government of the association. (Look up Food and Agriculture Code section 3965)  It is time to clean house. 

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

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