FMW: Fairgrounds exec could apply with us

COSTA MESA — The current president and CEO of the Orange County Fairgrounds could apply for his position with the investment group interested in buying the 150-acre property if the sale is finalized, a spokesman for the buyer said Friday.

Newport Beach-based Facilities Management West, the group that offered $100 million to buy the fairgrounds from the state, has expressed its desire to allow the 81 full-time employees to keep their jobs.

The group announced that former fairgrounds president and chief executive officer Becky Bailey-Findley would act as interim chief, run the transition and recruit a new CEO.

FMW spokesman Guy Lemmon says current President and CEO Steve Beazley is welcome to apply for the job, and he might be the one to get it after all.

"Because it's a significant position, we think we owe it to the employees to vet it carefully," Lemmon said. "We're just going to open it up and he might get it. Steve has done a phenomenal job. This year's 2010 fair had a record attendance; it's due to all the employees, of course, but he deserves the credit and it reflects on his leadership."

Beazley said he's only heard of that second-hand but he's open to applying.

"All I've been reading so far in the press is that they are not interested, that they would take all employees except myself, which, you know, I certainly understand," Beazley said. "When change of ownership happens, a change in leadership can happen. It has not been adversarial, it's business, and I do have an admiration for Guy Lemmon."

Beazley, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, would have to weigh his option of applying for the CEO position with all other opportunities that might open up for him, he said.

"I love the idea of being able to reinvent myself," Beazley said. "If reinvention would be through this job or another job, that would be my goal more than anything. But I wouldn't be close-minded to the idea, of course not. That would be foolish of me to be close-minded."

In addition to allowing all the employees to keep their jobs, Lemmon said there will be no lapses in pay or health coverage. FMW will pay the employees the salary they received before the state implemented some cuts in pay a year ago. The amount comes to about 5% of increase in pay for each employee, he said.

"We basically said that every full-time employee has a job with us, period," Lemmon said. "People have been concerned. If they have a full-time job, there will be no laps in employment or pay and health coverage. What we have to do is go get our own health coverage because we have no access to the state program."

In a PowerPoint presentation to the employees on Wednesday, FMW said the group is currently researching and "planning" for a health benefits package, a paid time off program and a retirement plan.

However, regarding a retirement program, which could never match up to the state's retirement package for its employees, FMW has not made any commitments yet to the fairgrounds' 81 full-time employees.

"We haven't made any decisions on that," he said. "We don't have access to the state pension system, so it's part of our evaluation, but it will take us sometime to figure all that out."

Jerry Eldridge, director of facilities at the fairgrounds, said FMW looks like a great place to work. Eldridge, 45, who worked for the fairgrounds for three years, plans to stay with the group, if the sale goes through.

"I think they gave us the confidence that they trust us, and for us to be able to continue business as usual," he said.

All this planning hangs only on the ability of the state to go through with selling the property to FMW.

Finalizing the sale with the state has been stalled after a group of businesses led by Jeff Teller, president of Tel Phil Enterprises, Inc., the company that runs the weekly swap meet, filed a lawsuit to stop the sale. An Orange County Superior Court judge placed a temporary restraining order prohibiting the state and Facilities Management from further discussions or proceedings to finalize the sale.

A hearing is scheduled on Dec. 15.

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