The Town and Country Fair organization’s OPEN LETTER to the community.
On December 16, 2014, the Town and Country Fair & Rodeo Association (TCF) resigned as the Lincoln County Fair event producer/promoter. Prior to resigning, in October of this year, we floated the idea of a transition partnership with the Lincoln County Fair Board members: Frank Geltner, Bill Hall and Jim Buisman. We were advised that the Board was unable to commit time to the production of the county fair. In return, they asked for another four year commitment to allow more time for the Fair Board and County Commissioners to develop a viable fairground plan.
Given this scenario, our Board made the difficult decision to resign from the fair event obligation. Our hope was that a suitable organization, experienced in event management, might be interested and that organization would also have sufficient fiscal ability to produce the event in years to come.
Going back to the beginning, April 2009, we assumed the County Fair — without county fair funds or office space — 2-1/2 months before the mid-July fair. Looking back, the County Commissioners announced that there would be “no county fair” in 2009, until Debra Jones raised her hand. Details were worked out and the first Town & Country Board was assembled. TCF relied on a former fair board member, Susie Clement, whose contributions to this process were invaluable, to guide them through the challenging first year event, since the county did not give them access to prior fair records, prior fair contracts or contacts, or vendor information held in the fair office.
Thanks to the Confederated Tribe of the Siletz Indians, who fully funded the 2009 Lincoln County Fair that year, we did have a county fair – in spite of the news surrounding the departure of the previous fair board. We cannot express sufficient thanks for the commitment of the Confederated Tribe of the Siletz Indians to tradition, heritage, and county fair culture. Without their support, the fair would have ended in 2009. And, special thanks must be extended to the numerous local musicians, artists, and community members who volunteered to keep the fair open – Admission that year was $1. Despite predictions of going in the red by the Commissioners, the Town and Country Fair Association produced a fair and came out in the black.
Subsequently, the county offered the Town and Country Fair Association a contract to continue the fair over the next few years assuming certain conditions were met. These conditions included additional insurance policies for several aspects of the event, Town & Country Board would agree to personally assume full financial responsibility for the event contracts and services, and pay all financial shortfalls, and represent the Fair Board at all state required events. In November 2009, TCF went to Salem to defend the fair they had produced in July. The results assured the county of a state distribution of $50,000 earned by our efforts that year and it continued every year we produced the fair – nearly $300,000 over the 6 years.
In May 2010, the county contributed $22,500 of the $50,000 disbursed by the state toward the 2010 County Fair. Each year, TCF had most fair contracts signed, vendors solicited, and budget created by May. An annual fair budget of around $65,000 required that TCF hustle Lincoln County towns for sponsors and donors to meet the shortfall between county funds and established fair budget.
Our contract renewed each year through the 2014 Lincoln County Fair. Originally it was agreed we would continue to produce the county fair for an estimated 5 years, with the understanding that the Fair Board would work toward the goals set by the Commissioner-appointed 2010 Blue Ribbon Committee. Recommendations to redevelop the property with new structures, hire a fair manager, and establish a profitable business plan were among the goals listed by the Blue Ribbon Committee. The Blue Ribbon Committee provided insights, surveys, and an informed direction to the County Commissioners regarding the potential use of the fairground property and the future of the county fair. (This report can be found on the county website.) TCF wants to recognize members of the Blue Ribbon Committee from various community sectors who volunteered many hours in preparing the recommendations given in the report. The current fair board was appointed as a recommendation of that report. The county recommended that the management and maintenance of the fairgrounds be assumed by existing county staff within county departments. This action circumvented the recommendation by the Blue Ribbon Committee to hire a fair manager to promote rentals and open the grounds to expanding use.
Over the past 6 years, TCF has continued to produce the fair — but progress on the fairgrounds property development has been sidelined from time to time and has been distracted by funding opportunities or alliances, elections, and multiple other county priorities putting this project on the back burner. While the consultants produced some interesting drawings, statistics and a feasibility study; the public has had two countywide input sessions over three years. While some incredible opportunities and partnerships loom ahead, the big picture or vision of the fairgrounds eludes the Fair Board and the County Commissioners. Members of the TCF board have observed that it is challenging to have a community meeting with two fair board members and three county commissioners present when each has a different viewpoint and priority. They continue to struggle to find consensus vision. We offer this observations because members of our board have faithfully attended nearly every public meeting that has been held in service to the future of the Lincoln County Fair and Fairgrounds.
We end this 6-year journey with thankfulness and appreciation to all who have supported us over the years; from county staff to community volunteers; other fair managers, vendors, and contractors who have become friends within our Oregon Fairs family. But, the sacrifice to produce an event is great. Our board members have volunteered all six years without compensation. We’ve used our personal vacation days for required state meetings; vendor site visits, marketing sessions, fair board meetings, and other related interviews or meetings spending approximately 1,000 hours per year. Using vacation time in this fashion along with weekends and holidays has left us with no time with our families and no paid vacation time available by mid-July or after fair.
During this year’s event, one of us lost a family member on Tuesday, July 8th, in the course of taking open class fair entries. It is hard to believe that one can get so involved in a community event that being with family should become a difficulty, but the “show must go on.” Going to Eugene to be with family and getting back to the fairgrounds early the next day to handle more fair entries and other preparations in anticipation of arriving vendors became part of the routine. Our family members came along for the ride. They have volunteered over the years in security, cashiering, spot light operations, office help and numerous other functions. We owe them a vacation as well. This year we hope to take all those trips with the family.
A production of this scale needs full time staff. It is all consuming: raising money, producing contracts, answering phones, mowing lawns, cleaning bathrooms, talking on radio shows, meeting with newspapers, posting signs, coordinating entertainment and hospitality, taking entries, locating equipment loaned that came back damaged and needs repair, gathering tents, picking up dog poop, it goes on and on. In addition, there are the licenses, permits, new policies that have to be written within hours and distributed to government agencies, over night security personnel orientation, city, county, and state forms, and multiple other details that have to be completed by opening day. It is simply overwhelming on some days. The number of attendees does not determine the amount of preparation required, or, at the end of the weekend, cleaning everything and putting it away — paperwork collected and signed, banking verified, and on and on. Even though the event is in July, there is no end to the related event follow up, which continues until about the end of August or September.
We have produced the best events possible, given the limited paid vacation time each of us had to use each year, and the limited funds we have personally fronted the event not knowing if we would ever be repaid. We are happy to report that each County Fair since 2009 has ended in the black, so we will not be at risk of losing our homes from a fair event ever again.
We want to thank our sponsors, community members, volunteers, radio stations, newspapers, and others who helped us spread the word through their business generosity, time, and support. We have made many new friends with these folks.
We sincerely hope a seasoned community group will see the County Fair or something like a county fair as an expression of their countywide community pride and will see how to make this a continuing profitable event.
The fairground property should be the “next” economic project of the county. It offers future employment, a possible destination attraction, meeting space or whatever else the space and design will allow and folks want to see. Frank Geltner, Fair Board Chair has done what he could to move along the development process and we thank him for his dedication and commitment to the Blue Ribbon Committee report and to learning about county fairs. He brings a wealth of experience having managed the Newport PAC and the U of O Student Union. Jim Buisman, Fair Board member brings a wealth of construction and engineering experience. What seems to be a great fairground development team is stifled in bureaucracy. Without a shared vision with the County Commissioners, these 5 men are at an impasse to progress.
While our fair production journey has come to an end, our nonprofit will be keenly interested in future fairgrounds development and other projects throughout the county. We’ll be seeing you and we will be watching you!
Fondly and thankful,
Debra Jones, President
Rebekah Goulet, Secretary/Treasurer
Todd Butterfield, Vice-President