O.C. fairgrounds fires CEO, who was leaving for another job

Kathy Kramer, chief executive of the OC Fair & Event Center, speaks at an event in 2015. The Fair Board announced Monday that it has voted to dismiss her, effective immediately. She already had taken a job as president and CEO of the Central Washington State Fair, where she is scheduled to start Feb. 1.
(File Photo)

The board of the OC Fair & Event Center, home of the annual Orange County Fair, announced Monday that it had voted to dismiss Chief Executive Kathy Kramer, effective immediately.

The move came less than two weeks after the Central Washington State Fair announced Oct. 15 that Kramer would be its new president and CEO, effective Feb. 1. Kramer was still working for the Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa in the meantime, though her scheduled date of departure was unclear.

The Central Washington State Fair Assn. announced Kathy Kramer’s new position Tuesday. Her move came as a surprise to the Orange County Fair Board.

Kramer could not immediately be reached for comment Monday evening.

Orange County fairgrounds spokeswoman Terry Moore said she couldn’t confirm when the board took the vote or what the margin was.

The board also announced Monday that Michele Richards, vice president of business development for the Fair & Event Center, has been appointed interim CEO. Richards could not immediately be reached for comment.

“The board noted that the staff of the OC Fair & Event Center comprises one of the most exceptional fair teams in the country,” according to a statement released by the fairgrounds. “It has been the efforts of this team, and not just one individual, that have created and sustained one of the largest and most successful fairs in the United States.”

Moore said she could not comment beyond the statement because it is a “personnel matter.”

After the announcement of Kramer’s new job, then-Orange County Fair Board Chairman Robert Ruiz said it came as a surprise to him and that he learned of it from a Central Washington Fair Assn. news release.

Ruiz said at the time that the Fair Board would be discussing its next steps during closed meetings, and the agenda for the board’s most recent regular meeting Thursday included a closed session “to consider the evaluation of performance of the general manager/CEO.”

Kramer has been involved in several significant decisions and controversies since assuming the role of CEO of the O.C. fairgrounds at the end of 2014.

Most recently she came under fire when Voice of OC reported this month 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.

During Kramer’s watch over the summer fair and other fairgrounds activities, the Fair Board instituted an audit committee after an audit released in January found that a former employee was still being compensated after she stopped working for the Fair & Event Center.

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