Dave Ellis resigns from Fair Board

A member of the Orange County Fair Board who chaired the group during a hotly contested attempt to privatize the fairgrounds has resigned.

Dave Ellis, who served on the fairgrounds' governing body since 2007, said Thursday that he stepped down because eight years on the board was enough.

"I'm just a firm believer in term limits," he said.

Although Ellis' second term had already expired earlier this month, there was nothing preventing him from continuing. When directors' terms end, they can stay on until the governor replaces or reappoints them.

In a short Jan. 13 resignation letter, Ellis praised his colleagues.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time on the board," he said. "I have eternal respect for the staff and organization."

But conflicts surrounding the attempted sale of the fairgrounds still linger years later.

In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who twice appointed Ellis to the Fair Board, put the fairgrounds up for sale in an attempt to close the state's budget gap.

When Ellis, who works as a political consultant, joined other board members in creating a nonprofit foundation to buy the 150-acre property, activists accused them of trying to manipulate the process for private gain.

The sale eventually failed in 2011 amid fierce public debate and a lawsuit. The Fair Board then formed the Fair Sale Review Committee to investigate any possible improprieties.

The committee's report last year strongly criticized the sale and suggested further investigation to answer many remaining questions. The board voted last year to forward the report to the Orange County district attorney's office.

Ellis has criticized the report as biased, saying parts of it are "speculation" and "conjecture." He's repeatedly sparred with review committee member Theresa Sears.

"[Sears is] just looking for goblins and ghosts where they don't exist," Ellis said in an interview Thursday.

Sears said Ellis' departure helps put the attempted sale in the past.

"It's all part of the healing process," she said. "Dave should have resigned a long time ago."

Ellis stands by the attempted sale.

"I think the failure to convert the property to a nonprofit, when the history books are written, will be the biggest mistake that ever happened down there," he said.

Sears questioned whether Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown would have reappointed Ellis, a Republican. Ellis dismissed the notion.

Ellis had also voiced disagreements with some newer board members about whether the sale attempt needed to be investigated further, but in recent months, Ellis was part of a unified board, said Doug Lofstrom, chief executive of the fairgrounds.

"Since I came back in April, it was clear to me that the board wanted to move forward," Lofstrom said.

Board members briefly addressed Ellis' departure during their meeting Thursday morning. Ellis did not attend.

Vice Chairwoman Ashleigh Aitken thanked him for his service.

"It was appreciated," she said, "for all of his hard work and insight and public service."

— Staff writer Bradley Zint also contributed to this report.

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