Fair Board votes to keep Tel Phil

COSTA MESA — Tel Phil Enterprises will not have to give up operating the weekend swap meet at the Orange County Fairgrounds in 2013, the Orange County Fair Board voted unanimously Thursday.

With Dale Dykema and David Ellis absent — Tel Phil's two biggest skeptics — the remaining board members voted 7 to 0 to withdraw the board's previous notice to end its contract with Tel Phil in 18 months.

"If we all embrace being forward looking, if we all embrace the principle of working together, we can all be successful," said board member Nick Berardino, who was on a two-person committee that met with Tel Phil this month to try and salvage the company's relationship with the board. "That was the foundation, the underpinning of our discussions, and they were great discussions. I think we're off to a great start."

Thursday's vote capped a tumultuous two months for Tel Phil and the Fair Board. In September, just days after fair officials met with Tel Phil representatives to try and find common ground over financial disputes surrounding the swap meet, the board voted to break its relationship with the swap meet operator after 42 years.

Jeff Teller, Tel Phil's company president and chief executive, accused some board members of retaliating against his business because of his involvement in an effort to stop the sale of the fairgrounds in 2009 and 2010.

"What's really important and what kind of stopped this last year or two or three was that communication with Teller and the [fairgrounds] staff," said board member Ali Jahangiri.

At the board's October meeting, an impassioned outcry from swap meet vendors, local residents and Berardino, among others, convinced enough of the board to reconsider its vote. Thursday's vote came with Teller's assurance that his company will play nice.

Teller expressed regret at how the relationship between Tel Phil and the board soured so quickly. He said he was bothered greatly that his vendors, which number in the hundreds, were affected by the board's earlier decision to oust Tel Phil.

"I take my responsibility as president of my company very seriously," Teller said. "I take my responsibility of representing [the vendors] greatly."

The board and Tel Phil agreed that some of their disagreements still have to be ironed out, but that they will work together on cross-promoting the swap meet and fair, and find ways to boost swap meet business.

"My goal really is to bring back to this community, to bring back confidence that you have a board now that is looking out for you," newly appointed board Chairwoman Joyce Tucker told the audience of about 30.

Earlier in the meeting, members of the Orange County Fair Preservation Society announced that they will try to recall Ellis.

"Sweeping through our country, there is a movement to identify and stop political corruption within our society," preservation society member Bob Mosley told the Fair Board. "We, the members of the Orange County Fair Preservation Society, effective this date, are answering that call."

"We have found the arrogance of this board, arrogance of management, unethical behavior of both management and this board has to be stopped," Mosley said.

The society is distributing a petition to send to Gov. Jerry Brown, Mosley said.

Upon first hearing about the recall effort by the Daily Pilot, Ellis laughed.

"It's nothing but a publicity stunt by a group that doesn't like getting asked hard questions," he said. "I'll challenge their votes on the Tel Phil deal, on how much the equestrian groups pay. They don't like that."

Ellis said as far as he knows, as a state appointee, the only way he can be removed is by resigning, which he says he has no plans to do before his Fair Board term expires in 2014.

O.C. Fair & Event Center Chief Executive Steve Beazley also announced that the theme for next year's fair will be "Home Sweet Home."

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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