Laura DeMarco | Avenida Primavera
*According to the 2008-2009 CDFA report, the 22nd DAA failed to disclose board gifts of 92 Fair tickets ($1,196 value) and 537 concert tickets (minimum of $12,888 value) to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). This unreported total of $14,084 in board ticket gifts dwarfs the $5,873 in reported ticket gifts of which almost half went to President Barry Nussbaum. No unreported ticket gifts were noted in 2008.
**The combined 2008-2009 CDFA Report does not include a dated cover letter co-signed by the Board President and CEO.
The Del Mar Fairgrounds gave $340,000 worth of tickets and meals to board members and guests during the Del Mar Fair over a six-year period according to critical state audit office reports only recently made public by the Watchdog at the San Diego Union Tribune and the Del Mar Sandpiper. As shown in the table below, this includes $100,000 in Fair and Concert tickets and $240,000 in meals.
The latest California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) Audit Office Report (covering the combined 2008-2009 periods) was finally released on Nov. 4, 2011 at the 22nd DAA board meeting at the request of newly appointed board member, Tom Chino. These critical reports had previously been hidden from the public and most of the nine-member board. Only the two-member audit committee, including the board president, reviewed these reports in the past. Note that if the committee had three board members, it would have triggered required public notice of their meetings so the public as well as the other board members would have had access to the state’s critical findings.
What is notably missing from the recent 22nd DAA response is a dated cover letter co-signed by Board President Adam Day and CEO Timothy Fennell which acknowledges the findings. All previous 22nd DAA responses included this cover letter. For example, two of the last four 22nd DAA responses included a dated letter co-signed by Russ Penniman, current head of the audit committee and then President, and CEO Fennell. This omission is extraordinary as was the delay of the 2008 report which should have been issued in the fall of 2010 when Governor Schwarzenegger proposed selling the Fairgrounds. Was this covered up as part of the Fairground’s PR campaign to block the sale of the Fairgrounds?
Another significant omission is the undisclosed value of tickets and meals provided to board members and their guests for the other 300 events at the Fairgrounds, especially to the horse races and Turf Club. Since the number of racing days are almost double the length of the fair, the total value of these tickets and meals could easily exceed the $340,000 in unsupported Fair benefits. These are hidden by the 22nd DAA which does not report their value to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) and the CDFA audit office.
In addition to the unsupported ticket and meal gifts to board members and guests, the Fairgrounds violated strict state policies by cashing out $524,000 in leave time as ongoing compensation which probably spiked the recipients’ (mostly managers) CALPERS pension benefit. This prohibited practice may have increased the CALPERS pension liability by millions.
There are many honorable current and former Fairboard members who did not abuse their privileged position. If they had seen these critical reports, they would have stopped the misuse of public funds and 22nd DAA management practices that continually violated state policies and regulations.
Unfortunately, most of the board members were kept in the dark as was the public. Thankfully, the new board appointees have the benefit of being able to review these reports and hold the 22nd DAA management accountable. Now that these issues are public, they have been properly referred to the FPPC, the Attorney General’s office and Governor Brown for appropriate action.
As part of our commitment to tracking Fair Board developments, in November the Sandpiper handed copies of recent Sandpiper issues to each member. We assured them we will continue to follow their actions for our readers, and we invited them to submit copy if they are interested. We urged them to adopt a “good neighbor policy.”
We also handed each of them a copy of the Del Mar City response to their master plan EIR, suggesting that it would be a valuable aid in all of their decision making that affects nearby communities.
We expect more new appointments in the near future and will encourage more cooperative relationships with those of us who live in the same neighborhood.
SP sources tell us that Fairgrounds CEO Tim Fennell has been busy lobbying behind the scenes in Sacramento with other fairground officials from around the state. Their pitch to the State is that if they have less interference from both state and local government agencies they will become more profitable and self-sustaining.