A Brief History of the Attempted Fair Swindle, by Gus Ayer

Gus whipped this out this morning over at the OC Progressive and I thought it was masterful and inspiring and have to share it. [And extra credit for the stately launch of a Gus neologism – “piratization!”] But don’t let it give you the idea that we’re out of the woods on this Fair Sale deal.   The Board/Foundation’s master plan may be crumbling before our eyes, but the legislation and auction they set in motion is still moving forward, and if we don’t get AB 1590 signed the property could end up in the hands of developers as soon as January!  But still, allow yourself ten minutes for a little education, inspiration, and schadenfreude:

A Done Deal Undone – But Let’s Remember What Happened

Orange County Fair Directors are surrendering their Foundation plan, which withered under public scrutiny. But fairboardthey’re also trying to rewrite history, so it’s important to take a few minutes to remember how we got to where we are, with a look at why the Fair Directors wanted to piratize the institution they were appointed to protect.

By the beginning of 2009, beleaguered Fair Board Directors were at rope’s end.

2008 had been a crappy year, as disclosures over hundreds of thousands of dollars of free concert tickets doled out by Fair Directors had been beaten to death by the Orange County Register. There was a searchable on-line database showing who gave the tickets, who got the tickets, and it wasn’t pretty.

Debbie Carona, wife of disgraced Sheriff Mike Carona, had gone overboard with the cheesy family influence peddling as one of the Fair Board Directors.

Follow this great article in the OC Register;

Fair director Deborah Carona, who faces unrelated federal corruption charges with her husband and his mistress, is by far the biggest ticket taker on the board, collecting 1,227 tickets valued at nearly $51,000. She received 1,118 free seats directly over the two-year period and got another 109 as part of a ticket-swapping system among board members.
Orange County music fans without political connections paid up to $89.99 per seat at the Pacific Amphitheatre, crossing their fingers they’ll get close to the stage. Ticket prices vary according to the show and the seat. The free seats received by the directors, in the pit and the orchestra sections, command the highest prices in the 8,000-seat venue….
“People like me get screwed,” said Jim Branagan, a concert-goer who paid top dollar for a front row seat for Crosby, Stills and Nash in 2003 and ended up sitting behind Mike Carona and a wall of boisterous off-duty sheriff’s deputies. One of the deputies demanded Branagan turn over a guitar pick that was tossed from the stage, he said.

There were menus and bills for the free catered dinners that Fair Directors had arranged for themselves and hundreds of their cronies, as research by the OC Register showed almost $400,000 in free catered meals over five fairs. Arugula salad, steak, lobster, and a show, with booze donated by vendors.

The Fair Board had grown into a robust patronage machine, and that machine was exposed, derided, and then the number of freebies was cut back dramatically at the demand of state auditors, state agencies, and an outraged public.

Again from that April 11,2008 Register article,

But so far the OC board is digging in its heels and refusing to give up the concert tickets.
“Unless someone forces a change, it’s not likely to change,” said board chairman Dale Dykema. “No one has given us a directive that says, ‘This is what you have to do.'”

All of these laws and rules, disclosures and publicity infuriated the Fair Directors, all political appointees of the Governor, Very Important People with powerful friends, fat wallets, and thin skins.

Then there were insults added to injury… Read the Rest of this story at the OC Progressive!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.