Tension between officials, audience apparent at Fair Board meeting


COSTA MESA — In Orange County Employees Assn. General Manager Nick Berardino’s first meeting as an O.C. Fair Board member Thursday, he wasn’t the only one who complained about the agency’s perceived lack of transparency.

Less than halfway into the meeting, and with the public comments portion scheduled to come up next, board Chairman David Ellis announced that the board was going into closed session for 30 to 45 minutes, and that he was moving the public comments portion to the end.

The announcement was enough for a majority of the audience to leave without speaking.

The board took no action in the closed session — which led some in the audience to say that the only thing the board accomplished was shooing away would-be speakers.

When the board came back into open session about 11:15 a.m., the members covered more routine items and then engaged in a lengthy debate about approving OC Fair & Event Center Chief Executive Steven Beazley’s ability to execute some contracts unilaterally.

Berardino and fellow board newcomer Gerardo Mouet criticized the policy, which gives Beazley the ability to approve general contracts without board approval for up to $200,000. The two were defeated, 4 to 2, in delaying the policy’s adoption to a later date.

By then, the meeting was about 30 minutes over its schedule and the public hadn’t yet been given time to speak. Ellis announced that two board members had to leave soon, so the public would get only 10 minutes to speak before the board lost its quorum, or majority.

“Sorry, people have real lives,” he said as the public grumbled.

“You owe it to the public to make sure your real lives don’t conflict with your duty to the public,” Berardino retorted to audience applause.

Ellis later apologized for the comment as tension between the board and audience grew.

With a stack of speaker cards in front of him and each audience member allowed up to three minutes at the dais, there was little time to waste. The board, however, then spent the next six minutes debating whether to allow the public to speak or to allow Berardino a chance to introduce an item he wanted placed on a future agenda.

The public went first, then Berardino motioned for the board to consider a community-led commission to investigate the fairgrounds sale at a future meeting.

Board members offered a couple of words. Berardino’s motion was approved unanimously and the meeting adjourned.