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Fairgrounds Operations Causes Idaho Fair Feud; County Suspends Board For Audit

5/19/2014

By Timothy Herrick

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Bannock County has two county fairs every summer and by all expectations should have two fairs this summer. What citizens of this Idaho county do not have now and may even not have this summer is a Fair Board.

Bannock County holds annual back-to-back fairs - the North Bannock Fair, held in Pocatello and the South Bannock County Fair, held in Downey. The fairs take place the first two weeks in August and by all accounts originated in the 19th century.

But along with the two fairs are two fair grounds, and both the fairs and the fairgrounds along with the facilities are under county control, which in Bannock County is a Commissioner system. There are three Commissioners, which are elected positions with staggered terms of 3-4 years and the commissioners appoint the Fair Board. The suspension of the Fair Board coincides with an audit of the fair and the fairgrounds that was instituted by Ian Service, chief deputy civil attorney under the Bannock County prosecutor, at the request of the county commissioners.

Power Parameters
The core of the issue causing contention is what limits of power the Fair Board possesses in regard to the fairgrounds. The running of the fair seems not to be in question - from all accounts, Bannock County citizens love their two weeks of twin fairs - but fairground operations seems all about questions with clear answers, especially when it comes to how governance of the grounds should be conducted, the role the Fair Board plays in that governance and if the millions of tax dollars the county spends for upkeep and marketing of the fairgrounds during the 50 non-fair weeks of the year is being misused.

The disagreement stems from interpretations of Idaho Statues governing the creation and execution of Fair Boards and if their purview includes the fairgrounds
According to Service, the Fair Board has only an advisory role in the fairgrounds, and the fairgrounds are under the purview of the Department of Fairs, a county agency. "The 7-person Fair Board are firing people in the fair department, making demands about the fairgrounds and their operation," said Service. "Under my interpretation of the ordinance, they do not have the jurisdiction."

Auditing Hold
Basically the audit puts all fair and fairground activities on hold for about 30 days, until a third party conducts an audit on all financial transactions and other revenue-related matters. "During the audit, we've suspended the board and then we will take a look at what we have found," said Service.

The audit has a deadline of June 6th, and the findings will be released on June 18th, when the County Commissioners will make their decision, according to Service. Service said he is  optimistic that the audit will discover anything "wrong that needs to be fixed" in terms of the financial workings of the fair and fairgrounds. "The third party auditors will be looking at all invoices and contracts," he said. "The first step is to find what needs to be fixed and the second step is to fix it. The audit is the first step."

When asked if he suspects any sort of malfeasance or illegal activity by the members of the Fair Board, Service replied, "Nothing that I would like to comment on at this time."

What the audit does do is impose a moratorium on all fair contracting for the two 2014 Bannock County fairs until June. While this hampers some crucial organizing for this summer's events, Service emphasizes that the Fair Board is not necessary for the fair. "Everything is done by the Fair Department, and all checks to vendors and contracts have to be approved by the commissioners," he said. "Bannock County will have our fairs this summer whether we have a board or not."

Carnivalwarehouse called the Bannock County Fair Grounds, also the offices of the Fair Board, and were told they are under a "gag" order by their attorney and could not discuss the matter and promptly hung up the phone.

Feuding Ordinances
In a May 6 article in the Idaho Statesmen Journal (idahostatejournal.com) Dale Almond, chairman of the currently suspended Bannock County Fair Board, said that the stalemate between Bannock County government and its Fair Board is due to conflicting interpretation of ordinances. "Almond says it is under Idaho Statute 22-204 that the Bannock County Fair Board should be created and empowered.  And under that statute, it gives the Fair Board authority over everything to do with the fairs, including operation of the fairgrounds at which they are hosted, he said."

"We haven't had major hirings, we haven't had major firings, we haven't lost huge events. It has been working," Almond was quoted as saying. And while he conceded that the Fair Board will have to follow whatever the county commissioners eventually rule, the suspension of the board not only postpones necessary decisions, but prolongs a dysfunctional situation between the fair and the county government, at the expense of both fair and fairgrounds. ""We haven't had a functional Fair Board for five months," he said. "We came together as two groups with more than 25 significant issues that are facing the commission and the Fair Board right now that need to be fixed."

In the meantime, Service acknowledges that rumors about the future of the fairs and fairgrounds are heating up this Idaho county. A special Town Hall meeting was held in late April after the Fair Board suspension, which he said was attended by more than 100 people. "We had three public meetings before the suspension, and nobody was there. The Town Hall meeting was jam-packed. People are afraid that there won't be a fair or that the fairgrounds will be sold because the buildings need repair. Emotions are running high and there's a lot of misinformation."

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