The pending resignation of Ventura County Fair Manager Jeremy Ferris, who presided over one of the most controversial periods in the fair's 80-year history, will probably not end the continuing debate between traditionalists and advocates of change, civic leaders said this week.
Ferris, who served as fair manager for more than four years, disclosed last week that he will resign after this summer's 12-day event, which starts Aug. 16, but will remain as fair manager until October.
While Ferris was accused by some Venturans of being out of touch with community values in pushing too quickly for major changes at the fair, he was praised this week as a man who took the fair through one of its stormiest periods.
"I think he has brought the fair through a lot of hot water," said fair board President Don Dufau. "When he came here, he said he would be staying about five years and that is what he has done. He will be leaving with the fair in the best financial condition in its history."
As fair manager, Ferris was criticized by members of a group called "Give the Fair Back to the People Committee" for perceived insensitivity in personnel matters and for favoring an amusement-park emphasis over the traditional livestock and home craft themes of a small county fair.
One major controversy involved his decision to notify a 30-year fair employee, Edna Mills, the home arts superintendent, that he was not going to renew her contract. Critics complained that Ferris told Mills of the decision in a phone call instead of a personal meeting.
Difficult Transition Period
Commenting on Ferris' departure, Ventura Mayor Jim Monaghan said he thinks that all the fairs during the last four years have been excellent and that Ferris was a man who did a good job during a difficult period of transition.
"Mr. Ferris has worked closely with us," Monaghan said. "But I think that whoever succeeds him will have some of the same problems. I just think we're in a period of controversy. You're going to have unhappy people on both sides.
"It's a very difficult position to fill," he added. "I know he wished he would have handled the Edna Mills situation more tactfully, because he told me so. But generally I think he did a good job of walking a tightrope in balancing the fair's different factions."
Ferris, 47, was hired as fair manager in 1985 after earlier jobs as manager of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Fair officials said Wednesday that he has not yet revealed his plans and added that they are just beginning the process of taking applications for a successor.
Controversy over the fair during Ferris' term also focused on a massive renovation plan for the Ventura Fairgrounds, including a proposal for a $20-million exhibition hall that could also be used as a convention center. Fair officials said it remains unclear whether the center will be built.