By LISA MACNEIL
Citizen’s Comments at the regular Board Of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting on April 13, 2021 became a testament to the current state of the Hernando County Fairgrounds. The Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show is underway until Saturday, April 17, 2021.
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb reported the general state of disrepair at a regular meeting on December 15, 2020. It was during that meeting the commissioners agreed to submit a request at the Legislative Delegation meeting for an Auditor General to audit the fairgrounds operations to ensure they are meeting legal requirements.
The property bearing its name is not owned by Hernando County, but by the Hernando County Fair Association Inc. The president and director of the Hernando County Fair Association Inc. is Shari Klimas.
We spoke to Richard Klimas for comment. Klimas stated that he learned of the comments while he was driving, and the meeting was underway.
Though he interrupted his trip to attend, he was ultimately late to the meeting and did not have a chance to speak in his defense. He additionally told The Hernando Sun that he and his staff were preparing to address the allegations at the next meeting.
The matter arose at the April 13th meeting when local resident Donnie Arnold spoke about the “face of the fair” during citizen’s comments, early in the meeting. Arnold’s children are showing livestock at the fairgrounds, which he describes as in “a very bad state of decay.” He added that two days prior to the meeting, his children and others were standing in ponding water during a thunderstorm.
Arnold showed photographs of various items in disrepair, including rotted braces and beams, roof holes, and rickety horse stables. He mentioned observing the illegal storage of oil. Aside from the obvious safety and cosmetic concerns, Arnold questions if potential buyers of livestock are avoiding bringing their business to the fairgrounds.
Arnold added that his photos would probably lead to his removal from the Livestock Committee, of which he is a member.
Commissioner John Allocco acknowledged the seriousness of the reported problems, and again advised the public that the county has limits on jurisdiction over private property. Allocco stated that the Brooksville City Council has been made aware of the issues, but was not clear on if inspections or actions have taken place.
The legal structure surrounding the regulation of the fair is complex. While the fair that is currently being held is on county land that resides within the city limits, it is regulated by a state agency, the Bureau of State Farmer’s Markets of the Division of Marketing and Development of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). County Attorney Garth Coller termed the legalities a “Statutory construction,” explaining that the FDACS rules are determined by Florida statute, however all code issues fall under the City of Brooksville.
The Hernando Sun contacted the City of Brooksville for comment. They have not had time to evaluate all the current information and are working to assess the situation.
The commissioners concurred that the photos submitted by Arnold will be sent to FDACS and also to each Legislative Delegate.
Dani Scott reported that the livestock check-in was held during a severe thunderstorm, rather than being postponed. She also stated that emails to the Fair Committee have been unanswered.
Kelly Arnold restated the maintenance and environmental issues, adding that a demolition derby has replaced the horse showing area. She also reported that wreckage from the derby has contaminated the soil, so the existing soil would need to be completely removed and replaced if horse showing is to take place in that area in the future.
Arnold read an addendum to the existing fairground rules, which she read in part, “direct criticism or interference with the judge, the fair or livestock show management, other exhibitors, breed representatives or show officials … during or after the competitive event is prohibited.” The rules add that “no person shall direct abusive or threatening conduct toward [the titles mentioned].”
Mellissa Simmons added that another portion of the rules addendum stated that if a contestant wished to later challenge a judge or management, there would be a $50 charge to do so.
Coller remarked that the writers of the addendum “seem to have repealed the constitution,” adding that the one enforceable clause would be the arguing with judges and referees. “Everything else, I think, is completely bogus.”
Later, Jessie Arnold, a steer exhibitor at the fairgrounds stated he felt embarrassed to show in the barn due to its poor condition. “I don’t feel safe,” he said of the barn, adding that this year was the second time he experienced a severe storm while inside. He added that 6% of the exhibitor’s profits are taken for marketing and advertising of the fair.
Back at the dais, Commissioner Wayne Dukes mentioned that he and his wife have sponsored teen exhibitors over the years, however, this year have only received one letter. Dukes expressed concern over the state of the buildings but did not make further comment.
Commissioner Steve Champion reiterated his comments from previous discussions, indicating disappointment in the decision of a prior board to relinquish control of the fair to a private entity. He asked fellow commissioners about the possibility of “taking back the fair,” adding that the county has plenty of land to host the fair and similar events.
Champion went on to say that he had spoken to Brooksville City Manager Mark Kutney about dilapidated buildings near his business, American Gun and Pawn. He reported asking the city to join the county’s Unsafe Building Program. “I have little to no confidence that they’ll do anything about the fair, because they don’t do anything about the City of Brooksville. There’s a lot of incompetence in the city.”
Commissioner Holcomb stated he was angry at the situation. Adding another dimension to the issues at hand, he questioned what the teen exhibitors are learning of local government responsibility. “We’re teaching them Government Swamp politics. We’ve had some issues with a couple of departments here, and we fixed that. This is the worst run organization in the county.”
Hernando Sun will be following up on this issue after further information is provided by the Fair Association and the City of Brooksville.