New O.C. Fair Board member requests audit of last three years

COSTA MESA — One of the Orange County Fair Board's newest members is calling for a forensic audit of the group's dealings for the last three years and a review of the property's proposed sale.

In an Aug. 4 letter to board Chairman David Ellis and Orange County Fair & Event Center President and Chief Executive Steven Beazley, Nick Berardino called for an independent examination of the fair's operations and transactions.

"By having a competent, independent professional review of the recent past, lift the veil on any actual or perceived secrecy, and help us become a more transparent and accessible board, I believe we will take a giant step in the right direction," wrote Berardino, who is also the general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., in the letter dated Aug. 4. "Only by bravely confronting the past can we successfully put it behind us. It's what the public expects of us, and it's the right thing to do."

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Berardino to the Fair Board earlier this year.

Berardino also called for the creation of a Fair and Event Center Citizen Oversight Committee to review the state's proposed sale of the fairgrounds.

"There's been a lot of controversy surrounding what took place with the sale of the fairgrounds," Berardino said Monday. "Any time there's been a situation that has caused distrust in the community and a government entity, the only way to go forward is to be completely transparent. Open it all up and see what happens."

Berardino is calling for the committee to be made up of several of the fair's stakeholders and outspoken opponents of the fairgrounds sale. He wants to see members from the Orange County Fair Preservation Society, equestrian center, O.C. Market Place vendors, fair management, employee groups and business council on the committee.

The group could issue its findings and recommendations within six months, according to Berardino's letter.

A state appeals court last month nullified a $100-million sale of the fairgrounds to Newport Beach developer Facilities Management West (FMW). Sealing the deal was the state Department of General Services' (DGS) announcement last month that the state was no longer trying to sell the 150-acre Costa Mesa property.

In a July 18 letter to FMW, DGS Deputy Director Theodore Park informed the company the deal was officially canceled.

"We thank you for your interest in this project and appreciate the time and effort that you put into your proposal," he wrote.

Ellis said he and Beazley will discuss next week if either of Berardino's items will make it onto the Aug. 25 agenda.

"I think we have a record-breaking fair, and I'm not so sure the public — that some people think of — are the 1.3 million at the fair," Ellis said. "So we'll sit down and have a discussion."

The Fair Board is audited annually by the state, Ellis added.

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