At the regular Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting held on May 11, 2021, members of the Hernando County Fair Association addressed the board to answer allegations brought forth during recent meetings by parents, volunteers and exhibitors. Two non-board representatives of the Association defended the practices and policies of the fair, giving accounts of inspections that were passed, and how the livestock weigh-in was conducted on April 11, 2021.
While no decisions were made during this meeting, commissioners suggested that the current management may not be capable of handling the operations, however are not willfully negligent.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes commented after the presentations that over his tenure, citizens have “continued to lose confidence in the fair.” Dukes went on to say the Association should consider making changes.
Commissioner Steve Champion is the commission liaison to the Fair Association. In the near future, it is expected that he will obtain Profit and Loss (P&L) statements and other supporting documentation from their electronic accounting software, QuickBooks.
Before final citizens' comments, Commissioner John Allocco said, “I don’t know why the fair would want to continue rather than find someone else who can manage it better. If you can do it, then let’s make it happen. If you can’t -- that’s a good business decision too -- to say ‘we don’t have the ability to make it happen at the level it needs to be.”
The second member of the Fair Association, Richard Klimas arrived later in the discussion, after Paula Sue Hamilton’s presentation which ended with the statement that she would not be answering questions from the commissioners. It was Klimas who requested that the Fair Association Representatives appear before the commission. He did take questions from the commission, stating that he would answer to the best of his ability.
Hamilton told the commissioners that her children have been a part of the fair as members of 4H and FFA.
According to Hamilton, the buildings that have come under recent scrutiny were inspected before and during the April fair by the city of Brooksville, Code Enforcement, Building Department and Fire Inspectors, and were approved for use.
There was no fair held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hamilton told the board, “There are a few things that need to be repaired, but the buildings are structurally sound, and no one was in harm’s way at any time while they were in there.” She went on to say that the “barrel concerns” were inspected by the city’s Code Enforcement and Fire Inspector, and the barrels were found to be dry and there were no leaks. The demolition derby cars were inspected also by Brooksville’s code enforcement and underwent a Hernando County Environmental inspection and no leaks were found.
As to the safety of the barn, Hamilton said, “Mother Nature is unpredictable. During the final steer weigh-in, weather was being monitored. All steers were secured in their stalls prior to the lightning starting. Exhibitors were not required to stay with their animals. Most exhibitors and their parents left and returned later to care for their animals.”
Hamilton handed the board a packet consisting of existing laws and requirements that govern fairs, called the “National Code of Show Ring Ethics” by the International Association of Fair and Expositions (IAFE). Within the documentation are guidelines for fairs that charge a fee based on the sale of livestock.
According to the code, 5% of the selling price is retained for swine and lamb, and 3% for steers. The provision in the code states, “...does not apply to add-ons” but does not state what add-ons include.
Hamilton concluded her address by saying that “The remark that ‘no good buyers are left in the barn,’ is detrimental to the buyers that show up year after year to support our kids. This year, we had the highest prices and sales than we’ve had in the past 11 years.”
She advised that she was not going to accept questions but requested a private meeting with the board to address each item of concern that has been brought before the board in recent weeks. According to Hamilton, the Fair Association Board asked her not to receive questions, because she could not answer for other members of that board. Hamilton agreed to attempt to answer questions after Commissioner John Allocco called the refusal “a very poor decision,” adding that the County Commissioners cannot conduct business outside of a public meeting.
“On a personal note, this cancel culture that going on from a small group - I personally feel that is why we don’t have more businesses showing up, because they’re petrified that a small group of people that are really, really loud are going to detriment their business - they don’t want to be there and have their name and business bashed.”
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb called the decision “Absolutely appalling,” and countered that area residents have been looking for answers from the Fair Association for over 10 years. Holcomb agreed with Hamilton on the point of personal vendettas, “because this is about the kids.”
Holcomb again described the condition of the buildings on the fairgrounds as poor, as shown by photos taken recently by parents of an exhibitor. Holcomb posed his question regardless.
“I haven’t been able to find anyone in the county that’s not on the Fair Board that says positive things about it. Even outside the county, other fairs surrounding this area have decided to no longer work with the Fair Board. What have you been doing for maintenance of these facilities?”
Holcomb said of the lack of funding as a recent reason for lack of maintenance, “Your job as a fairgrounds is to sit there and collect money. You’re going to collect money from commercial and food vendors … carnival vendors … you’re collecting money from the livestock [exhibitors].”
Holcomb stated that he wrote a check to the Fair Association 24 days before this meeting to be distributed to the kids participating. “It still hasn’t been cashed.” He reported that he knew of other citizens hoping to donate funds, however have not been able to contact anyone at the fairgrounds. “That’s a huge problem when you say you have no money. Open your gates and answer your phones.”
Admission to the fair did not include admission to the demolition derby or monster truck demonstration. According to Holcomb, these events were an additional charge of $60, and he asked what portion of the revenue comes back to the fair.
He also asked specific questions about the number of staff and their rates of pay, forms of payment accepted, and number of commercial vendors in attendance. “How many voting members are on the board, and how do those members vote for the next set of members?
Are they allowed to do absentee ballots... who’s in control of those absentee ballots?”
Holcomb said his “back of the napkin” calculation of revenue collected from the exhibitors was around $10,000, and there was no evidence that the Fair Association did any marketing for the 2021 fair. “Where is that money going to be stored for next year, and when are [the exhibitors] going to get paid?”
Commissioner Beth Narverud agreed with Allocco’s and Holcomb’s opinion on the decision to not answer questions during the meeting. “ You asked for a spot (on the agenda) so you could reply and defend yourselves, and talk about why things aren’t being done. I hear stories of intimidation, a retaliatory culture, and that you charge participants of the fair to address issues with you. Is it because we’re not paying you to respond to us, that you’re choosing not to (respond)? Do we have to put in a fee as well? I do not think that this is the way we operate in this county. We are here for the children and need to be building the fair, and building the culture of the fair, and making Hernando a fair that people want to come to.”
Narverud also reported that she was unaware of any marketing or advertising of the fair prior to one day before its opening day.
It was at this point during the meeting that commissioner Steve Champion recognized Richard Klimas, the listed owner of the Hernando County Fair Association, who, however, does not hold a board position.
Klimas reported that the Fair Association Board consists of 14-15 members. “They tell me what I need to do, what I can do, what I can’t do.” Klimas stated that he could not answer any questions about finances because that is outside of his scope, but would answer what he could. He advised that he would try to return answers to the BOCC of questions he could not answer.
Allocco asked Klimas how the buildings passed inspections before and during the fair, yet two weeks after the fair ended, “... it was dilapidated enough to be condemned, and couldn’t be used. Can you tell us how that happened?”
According to the city of Brooksville’s violation report dated April 23 (following an April 20 code enforcement inspection), of the 75 support poles supporting the pole barn, 8 require replacement or repair. One of the supports is steel, and could be repaired by welding steel plates to the base. The document also states that "Eight (8) purlins will need to be replaced to avoid falling and endangering the general public." A purlin is a longitudinal or horizontal structure in a roof. The repairs must be complete by May 31.
Klimas could not answer the question about the reversal by Brooksville’s Code Enforcement, however did say that permits have been obtained to make the required repairs.
Champion brought up positive aspects occurring at the fairgrounds, such as the completion of a building painting project and holding events outside of fair season such as gun shows. However, he chided Klimas’ hesitation to answer questions, saying, “You’re ‘Mr. Fair’ … when I have a question, I call you.”
Klimas added that the pandemic cost the Fair Association a lot of money as they were unable to hold the county fair in 2020. “What I struggle with every day is that everything costs money.” Money was spent to fix water leaks and pay for insurance and other expenses while the fair brought in no revenue during the part of the pandemic where everything closed.
While he is paid a salary for mowing the fairgrounds, he stated that he is not paid for other maintenance. Additionally, he hires electricians, plumbers and other service people to repair and maintain items outside of his scope of knowledge. Klimas further acknowledged that the mowing has faltered since he suffered a heart attack in February, and continues to recover.
Klimas reported that he has not received money for mowing for close to a year beginning in 2020 to make sure that funds would be available to host this year’s fair.
Working largely on a voluntary basis, Klimas seeks others to take part in the efforts.
Responding to commissioner Holcomb, Klimas reported receiving approximately $4,000 in proceeds from the demolition derby from which he paid others involved with the operation of that part of the fair. The actual amounts paid to the announcer and track operators as well as Klimas were unclear. Klimas also insures the demolition derby out-of-pocket for approximately $900.
Holcomb read from the IRS Form 990 from 2018. 990 is the form filed by tax-exempt organizations. During this filing, the board reported $470,503 in total assets. Klimas told Narverud that the Association’s Treasurer is overseen by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), however was unable to answer specific financial questions.