Former fair CEO considers interim post

COSTA MESA — The prospective operators of the Orange County Fairgrounds have asked one of its past chief executives to take over if the state sells the property.

Becky Bailey-Findley, who served as chief executive from 1994 to 2008 and was a long-time fair employee before that, said she’s interested in leading the takeover for Facilities Management West.

Like the sale itself, her hiring is still tentative, but Bailey-Findley is already deeply involved. The city of Costa Mesa retained her as a consultant during its negotiations to buy the fairgrounds, and in that capacity she dealt closely with Facilities Management West, the company that agreed to finance the purchase.

If hired, Bailey-Findley would lend a familiar and respected face to the company and could make its controversial role more palatable.

“I am happy to continue on with them if the sale were to go through, to help make it a smooth transition for the business and for the [fair] employees,” Bailey-Findley said.

The 150-acre property generates $17 million in revenue each summer from the county fair. Other attractions include the Pacific Amphitheater, an outdoor concert venue, and the event center, which hosted the popular Barrett-Jackson classic car auction in June.

The OC Fair & Event Center, the current state-run organization, has about 80 full-time and 1,400 part-time employees.

Bailey-Findley started in 1972 as a livestock clerk, and worked her way up to be top executive. She weathered a political firestorm in 2008 when the fair directors were accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free concert tickets.

“She has the respect of the broad community and has a working relationship with many of the employees,” said Guy Lemmon, the chief operating officer for the investors behind Facilities Management West.

If the sale goes through, Lemmon said his group would initiate a nationwide search for a chief executive, and that Bailey-Findley would take over in the interim. Bailey-Findley said she doesn’t plan to apply for the permanent job.

The city would be happy dealing with her, said Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder.

“There are probably few people around that are more knowledge about operating that facility in the community than Becky,” he said.