When it comes to the Park County Fair, what is the role of the Park County Commissioners? What is the role of the county’s advisory fair board? And what does the future look like?
Those are questions that have remained unanswered since the commissioners diminished the power of the existing fair board to advisory status due to poor communication on the part of the fair board.
While those questions don’t have answers yet, both the fair board and the commissioners are working to foster communication between the two boards. The commissioners dedicated an hour of their Sept. 13 work session to fair board members Tiffany Brando, Andrea Earhart, Sara Skalsky and Fred Bronnenberg. The hour was spent addressing questions and concerns of both the fair board members and the commissioners.
“The discussion needs to be who is doing what,” Commissioners’ Chair Dossie Overfield said. “I thought it would be helpful if we all got in the same room for a change and kind of talked about what needs to happen and what could work the best for everybody.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Overfield cleared up a long-standing rumor.
“The first rumor I want to put to rest is that we plan to dissolve the fair advisory board,” she said. “I’ve heard that from about six different directions, and I have no idea where that came from.”
Overfield went on to say the advisory board plays a key role in putting on the fair each year. The board is charged with making decisions about what events will take place at the fair, scheduling all livestock and exhibits, coordinating judges and other volunteers and picking vendors. Although the fair board is technically an advisory group now, they still meet with county staff who are instructed to act at the fair board’s direction, Brando said.
County events manager Billy Wood expressed satisfaction with the current arrangement, but fair board chair Brando expressed concern that some of the advisory board’s priorities got lost in the shuffle on occasion.
“If we vote on something ... and something interferes (with the execution of that decision), we need to be notified that it’s not going to get done,” Brando said, “because we’re finding out on the backside that things aren’t getting done that we thought were in process.”
For example, a request to develop a judges’ schedule for the 2022 fair was never completed by Wood, Brando said.
“We had multiple conversations about that, and we were still begging judges the day of to judge our competitions,” Brando said. “He (Wood) is deciding what his priorities are, and they may not fit what (the fair board’s) priorities are or what (the county’s) priorities are. So how do we mesh those?”
The commission’s and fair board’s roles in improvements to facilities — from upgrading the sound system to putting siding on the beef barn — were also discussed. Due to its advisory status, the current fair board is not allowed to initiate capital projects, which have to be initiated on a commission level. This is in conflict with state statute, which says fair boards are responsible for maintaining and managing fairgrounds areas, Commissioner Lee Livingston said.
The Park County Attorney’s office is looking into ways for the county to get back into compliance with the statute, including instituting the commissioners themselves as the primary fair board while also maintaining the advisory board, Livingston said.
Earhart said she was concerned how the potential change could impact the advisory board’s ability to make necessary improvements to the facilities, and asked the commissioners to give the advisory board autonomy to use its funds on small improvement projects directly related to the fair.
“I would hate to lose the ability to make improvements there that we think would be beneficial to the kids or the livestock or the running of the fair, because it’s not something the county wants to do for one week of fair,” Earhart said. “So I kind of like how we do it now ... where we have discretion to use our funds and earmark some of our funds to do in-the-barn improvements or things like that that really have a benefit for that one week.”
Whether the commissioners will become their own fair board to comply with state statute is still to be decided, but two things are for certain right now, Livingston said: The advisory board is crucial to putting on the fair every year, and the board should not expect any significant changes in the near future.
“I would not foresee any change at all,” Livingston said. “Right now, you’re a fair advisory board to the county commissioners. That’s what we established years ago ... So I would foresee you being an advisory board to the fair board, which happens to be the county commission, if that’s the direction we decide to go.”
Moving forward, the advisory board is asked to stay in contact with the commissioners about its needs and concerns, and the commissioners extended an open invitation for the fair board to bring concerns to their meetings on the second Tuesday of every month.