The chief executive of the state-owned OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa will be moving north to become president and CEO of the Central Washington State Fair.
The Yakima-based fair announced Kathy Kramer’s hiring Tuesday. She will take the position Feb. 1, according to a news release from the Central Washington Fair Assn. Kramer will replace current President Greg Stewart, who will retire at the end of December.
“I am very excited and humbled to be joining the Central Washington Fair Assn. team as the new president and CEO,” Kramer said in a statement. “I am truly looking forward to working with the board, staff and community to move this organization to the next level. We have such a great opportunity to continue to build on the rich history of this organization and Yakima Valley to ensure that State Fair Park continues to be a vital part of the community for years to come.”
The news came as a surprise to OC Fair & Event Center board Chairman Robert Ruiz, who said he learned of Kramer’s new job from the Central Washington Fair Assn. news release.
Ruiz said the Fair Board will discuss its next steps during a closed meeting Monday. The agenda for its regular meeting Oct. 24 includes a closed session “to consider the evaluation of performance of the general manager/CEO.”
Kramer’s last scheduled day on the job in Orange County was unclear Wednesday. She and the OC Fair & Event Center did not immediately respond to requests for further information.
Tom Stokes, a member of the Central Washington Fair Assn. board who was chairman of a committee that oversaw Kramer’s recruitment and hiring, said the fair chose her because of her skill set and experience running a fair and expo.
Stewart announced his retirement in April and the fair began interviewing applicants in July, Stokes said. Kramer’s final interviews were in early to mid-September, Stokes said.
Kramer has been involved in several significant decisions and controversies since assuming the role of CEO of the Orange County fairgrounds at the end of 2014.
Most recently she came under fire when Voice of OC reported on her role as a board member of the Vanguard University Foundation. The fairgrounds and the private Christian university in Costa Mesa have held a close relationship for years.
In 2018, the Fair & Event Center agreed to pay Vanguard $75,000 to display signage at the campus theater, cross-promote programming and have the university’s musical theater students perform at the Orange County Fair, as well as the Imaginology and Salute to Veterans events at the fairgrounds.
Ruiz said he was unaware of Kramer’s involvement on the university foundation board until he was contacted for the Voice of OC report.
“She can sit on boards; that’s not a problem,” Ruiz said. “But for transparency purposes, I wish she would have disclosed it … because I feel there is a possible conflict of interest there. I feel she should have recused herself, especially when we were directing money over to Vanguard University.”
Ruiz added that Kramer’s involvement with the university did not influence the board’s decisions regarding Vanguard.
David Vasquez, senior external director for Vanguard University, dismissed the possibility of a conflict of interest.
“The conflict would be if Kathy, for instance, if the state agent was getting any value, any dollar value because of their service on the board,” Vasquez said. “We don’t compensate board members.”
Vasquez said it’s not unusual for public servants to serve on nonprofit boards.
He also pointed out that Jeff Teller served on the university foundation board in the early 2000s while he was president of the Orange County Market Place swap meet, which operates at the fairgrounds.
“For us, that’s kind of the purpose of the board itself, is for there to be community leaders to serve on the board,” Vasquez said. “A mission and goal of the university foundation is to engage alumni and businesses in the community, and so because of that mission, we intentionally look for community leaders both in the civic space and the business and corporate space to serve on the foundation board.”
During her watch, the Fair Board instituted an audit committee after an audit discovered that a former employee was still being compensated after she stopped working for the Fair & Event Center.