Fair Board expands committee members

The Orange County Fair Board on Thursday approved the scope of work for a committee that will investigate the attempted sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds, expanding the committee’s roster to include five members with no special interest in the property.

The board agreed that the committee’s work would be subject to state open-meetings laws and approved a list of 71 names of people to whom the committee should talk.

The board put off until its next meeting a decision on whether to require committee members to file statements of economic interest.

Board member Nick Berardino read the names of several well-known activists who would be serving on the committee: Sandy Genis and Reggie Mundekis from the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, Lisa Sabo and Theresa Sears for the Equestrian Center, Greg Silva and Mike Robbins for the Orange County Market Place vendors, and Lisa Reedy and David Stiller to represent homeowners, plus a member of a union local.

The committee was also supposed to include one member each from the Orange County Business Council and the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, as well as a few at-large members.

Berardino said that there had been a mix-up over who was supposed to contact the chamber, so that hadn’t been done yet.

Board Chairwoman Joyce Tucker said that she was having a hard time getting retired judges to fill the at-large seats.

“Based on the makeup of this committee, they declined,” she said.

Earlier this week, she had said that the business council declined to take part because the committee was stacked one way, but she apologized for the characterization at the meeting Thursday, saying the committee work didn’t fit with the business council’s mission.

Board member Ali Jahangiri called for expanding the committee to include more people with no connection to the fairgrounds.

“I don’t think it should be open to just these groups,” he said. “It should be open to all.”

Board member Stan Tkaczyk opposed the idea for “coming in at the end” of a process that began at the last meeting.

Berardino proposed including five at-large members on the committee rather than two, winning the support of his colleagues.

Although the plan is for the committee to finish its report in 120 days, Sears said that was unrealistic if the committee was to conduct some 80 interviews.

“I would hope there’d be an extension of time,” she said.

Berardino and Tkaczyk both criticized the Daily Pilot’s fairgrounds coverage this week — in particular, for publishing three articles on one day that they deemed favorable to board member David Ellis, their frequent opponent.

One article was an opinion column praising the Fair Board’s charity work with foster children, one was a news article about the state attorney general’s decision not to return as Fair Board counsel, and the third was a news article about low revenues at the Equestrian Center.

That article, which was based on invoices and contracts, confused the number of stalls a tenant rented with the number of horses housed in the stalls.

Equestrian Center operator Rick Hanson said he was worried that his customer would think he disclosed the information and leave. Hanson did not provide the information to the Pilot.

The question of conflicts of interest on the Fair Sale Review Committee will be taken up again at the next meeting, when the board decides whether to require its members to disclose their economic interests.

Because many of the committee members have a financial interest, attorney Roger Grable said, the question is “will this committee be making recommendations to be followed.”

“If recommendations are made to the board for action, it’s subject to conflict-of-interest laws,” he said.

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