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BOCC nixes Fair litigation mediation settlement

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The Hernando County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) unanimously rejected a mediation settlement that would have ended litigation between the County and the Hernando County Fair Association. The denial was made during the BOCC’s regular June 13 meeting.

The court actions stem from a lengthy series of complaints about a range of issues ranging from the condition of the buildings at the Fairgrounds to the alleged misuse of more than $60,000 of County-granted funds for the operation and maintenance of the venue.

Allegations also include those that the Hernando County Fair Association charged 4-H and FFA livestock show participants $10,000 for promising – and subsequently failing – to market their animals for auction and delaying payment to the owners of livestock that were successfully auctioned during the events.

In July 2021, then Hernando County Commissioner, now State Rep. Jeff Holcomb, asked, and the Board agreed that the County Attorney’s office should review the results of discussions between the Fairgrounds Association, parents, and county attorneys to determine how to proceed.
Later a pair of complaints were filed in the Hernando County Fifth Judicial Circuit Court by Hernando County against the Hernando County Fair Association, Inc.

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According to County Attorney Jon Jouben, on Dec. 21, 2021, the County sued the Fair Association to enforce the Memorandum of Agreement and Performance Agreement. Under those agreements, the County agreed to convey the title to the Fairgrounds to the Fair Association in 2008 without cost in exchange for the Fair Association’s agreement to redevelop the Fairgrounds at its own expense.

While the County deeded the Fairgrounds to the Fair Association (HCFA), the Fair Association did not subsequently redevelop the Fairgrounds.
“The County has sued the Fair Association to require it to comply with its obligations under the Memorandum of Agreement and the Performance Agreement,” Joubon said.

In another case filed on April 8, 2022, the County sued the Fair Association for breaching the lease between the parties for Lonnie Coburn Park. After the lease ended, the County had the Park’s buildings inspected. Those inspections revealed unrepaired damage to the roof of the pavilion, the structural components of the pavilion, and the restroom building. The County subsequently hired a contractor to repair the pavilion and the bathroom.

According to the Stipulated Mediation Agreement, the HCFA leased Lonnie Coburn Park from the County until the County terminated the lease agreement in May 2021. The County repaired structures at Lonnie Coburn Park after the termination of the lease with HCFA, spending a total of $66,421.48 for such repairs. “The County has sued the Fair Association seeking to recover the costs that it incurred to repair those buildings,” Jouben said.

On March 20, 2023, the court referred the case for mediation. During the June 13 board meeting, Jouben presented the mediation settlement, which called for County representation on the Fair Association and a payment of $10,000 in response to the County’s claim for damages. Commissioner Brian Hawkins motioned to deny the mediation, and BOCC Chairman John Allocco seconded that motion.

During the resulting discussion, Commissioner and Second Vice Chairman Steve Champion told the panel that the mediation settlement was not in the best interests of the County. “The proposal that has been made is not even close to a resolution, in my opinion,” Champion said. “And we have a duty to protect the taxpayers.”

Finally, the BOCC voted unanimously to deny the mediation. Allocco later declined to comment further on the ongoing litigation but stated,
“The community came out in arms about the failings of the current fair association and the poor condition of the buildings and grounds,” he said.

“The BOCC is attempting to rectify this situation.” No one from the Hernando County Fair Association was available for comment on the BOCC mediation denial.

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