The Orange County Fair & Event Center’s interim chief executive announced this week that he will be leaving the job at the end of the month for a similar one in Northern California.
Jerome Hoban, 39, leaves the state-run fairgrounds to head the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, a Bay Area suburb east of San Francisco.
Hoban, an Orange County native, said leaving the organization is a “bittersweet” moment for him but that he felt it was time to move on.
“My heart and soul is in this property,” he said, adding that he was “going to miss this staff. They’re very talented and dedicated to what they do. I’m going to miss them all.”
The Fair Board was scheduled to meet in closed session Wednesday to discuss Hoban’s position, presumably to discuss making his appointment permanent. Fairgrounds spokeswoman Robin Wachner said as of Tuesday afternoon that the board was still scheduled to meet.
The closed session Wednesday was originally scheduled for the March 28 Fair Board meeting but was postponed.
In response to the timing of his resignation in relation to the closed session, Hoban said his announcement came on Alameda’s “timeline and schedule.” That organization has been without a CEO since December, he said.
Hoban replaces Rick Pickering who was chosen in December to head the California State Fair. Pickering was with Alameda since 1999 and is credited with in spurring a nearly 44% attendance increase in the past four years.
Hoban was appointed CEO of the 150-acre property in Costa Mesa in April 2012 to replace outgoing CEO Steven Beazley.
He has been with the fairgrounds for more than two decades, starting as a manager at Centennial Farm. Hoban served as the fair’s vice president of operations before becoming CEO.
Finding a new CEO
The process to find a chief executive will be completely up to the Fair Board, Hoban said.
Added Theresa Sears of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society: “I don’t know what the board will do. Maybe they will operate without a CEO … it will be their choice.”
“The fair’s going to happen, with or without a CEO,” she added. “There is plenty of staff there that know how to do it.”
Sears complimented Hoban, saying that she wished him well and his new job was “probably a good personal decision.”
Sears was one of several members of the Fair Sale Review Committee that examined the failed 2010 attempt to sell off the publicly owned property. The committee recommended an audit be conducted and more transparency introduced overall throughout the organization. The report was sent last month to the Orange County district attorney’s office for further examination.
Sears said the resignation “doesn’t take away from any of that. We’ll carry on with that and move forward. That’s our hope ... the fairgrounds will go on.”
Fair Board member reactions
Board member Stan Tkaczyk declined to comment on Hoban’s resignation until he meets with his colleagues Wednesday in closed session.
“We’re going to have to fill that position, and how we do that will be determined, hopefully, very soon,” Tkaczyk said.
“He’s been a wonderful CEO and I will miss him,” said board member David Ellis. “It seems like a good opportunity for him and his family.”
Board member Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., added, “I wish Jerome the best of luck and thank him for his years of service. We have great talent on the fair staff and we’re looking forward to the best fair ever.”
Chairman Douglas La Belle could not be reached for comment as of press time Tuesday evening.