Ventura Fair Manager Gets Confidence Vote of Board

Times Staff Writer

Jeremy Ferris, the embattled manager of the Ventura County Fair, was given a unanimous vote of confidence Tuesday by the fair's Board of Directors, as nearly 100 critics turned out to call for his ouster.

Ferris, who has no contract and can be fired on 24-hour notice by a majority vote of the nine-member board, urged the crowd of disgruntled fair volunteers not to turn their backs on the annual event.

"If you folks want to hurt the fair--it's boycotting it for personal reasons and stepping out of it," said Ferris, who was appointed to the $59,000-a-year post three years ago. "We need you."

But critics, who say that Ferris has forsaken the traditional country flavor of the fair for a more commercialized atmosphere, said they will not participate in the 1988 fair until their 10-point list of grievances is addressed.

Besides the ouster of Ferris, their demands include the reinstatement of dismissed home arts superintendent Edna Mills, return of the fair dates from August to October, public input on personnel matters and capital improvements, and the change of board meeting times from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to allow for more public participation.

'Used to Be Exciting'

"The fair used to be exciting and fun. . . . But it's just lost a lot of its warmth and welcome feeling," said Carol Allen, a 13-year volunteer.

Board President Don Dufau, who has said that he is pleased with Ferris' performance, told the crowd that he would address the grievances either in writing or at another public meeting.

"As far as I'm concerned, it hasn't fallen on deaf ears," he said.

The tide of opposition against Ferris and changes at the fair came pouring forth in October when the 46-year-old manager dismissed Mills over the telephone for not being a "team player."

Mills, a volunteer for 29 years, made her first public comments on the matter at Tuesday's meeting.

"In your opinion and my opinion," she told her supporters, "probably the worst thing that happened was telephoning me rather than conducting things in a gentlemanly manner."

Ferris, who has defended the action as a management prerogative, told the crowd that he regretted doing it by telephone.

"If you want to talk about hindsight, I wouldn't do it again that way," he said.

When asked if that could be taken as an apology, however, Ferris said, "You can take that for what it was."

Mills' dismissal mobilized about 60 volunteers into forming the "Give the Fair Back to the People Committee," which met in December and began circulating petitions in support of the 10 grievances.

The petitions, which will be sent to Gov. George Deukmejian, have not been counted, but contain "thousands" of signatures, the former volunteers said. The fair board is appointed by the governor.

"Personally, I don't like to fire anybody. . . . However, somebody should give Mr. Ferris a course in effective management techniques," said Richard Henniger, one of the group's organizers.

A few attending the meeting, however, defended Ferris and the fair board.

"We have found that the only true open-door policy is with the present management," said Hal Beavers, a fair superintendent.

But most were there to make their disenchantment with Ferris known.

"I think you need to make some apologies," Henniger said. "Then we can get back to building a nice fair."

The former volunteers announced a meeting on Feb. 11 at the Cameo Wedding Chapel in Ventura to discuss their next step.

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