Say what you will about Berardino, but…




…but it sure is nice to have him on the Orange County Fair Board now facing down Chairman Dave Ellis.  Good call, Governor Brown!

I know a lot of you OJ denizens are just generally anti-union, and specifically anti-public employee union, which makes the fire-breathing head of the Orange County Employees Association a sort of Satanic figure to you.  And you understandably mock both the Voice of OC and the Liberal OC blog as generally uncritical mouthpieces of the OCEA, due to the former’s funding and the latter’s personal connections.  Others of you, not necessarily hostile to the cause of labor, make a solid case that the OCEA has been politically lame on many occasions.

But in his latest gig as one out of a minority of two Democratic Brown appointees (along with Gerardo Mouet) on the nine-member Fair Board, Nick is hitting the ground running, doing the only thing a minority can do in such a situation – aggressively call attention to the misdeeds of the majority.  In short, he has made two proposals which he hopes to have discussed and voted on at the next Fair Board meeting – his and Gerardo’s first, on Thursday the 25th: a forensic audit of the last few years of the Board’s actions, and a citizens’ oversight committee.  These two steps, as unlikely as they’d be to win a majority vote at this point, would 1) shine light on the secretive actions taken by the Board in 2009-10 in pursuit of the sale/privatization of the Fairgrounds, and 2) help prevent such chicanery from happening again.

Well, yesterday Nick alerted me that, even before his proposals could be shot down at next week’s meeting, Chairman Ellis has refused to so much as put them on the agenda:

I wanted to update you regarding my requests to establish a citizens oversight committee and conduct a forensic audit of the Orange County Fair and Event Center.  The Chairman of the Fair Board rejected my requests and chose to not even agendize the item for discussion or action. Of course I was very disappointed because I strongly believe that the community and various stakeholders are poised to move forward to building a consensus about the future of the Fair and Event Center. I think a community oversight committee – which could be comprised of business leaders, Fair and Event Center executive management, union members, representatives from the Equestrian Center and Marketplace vendors, the Fair Preservation Society and perhaps representatives of residents in the immediate vicinity of the Fair and Event Center – would be a tremendous vehicle to drive that effort.

I will make a motion at the August meeting of the Fair and Event Center Board to attempt to place these items on the agenda for the September meeting. Hopefully a majority of Board members will decide that my ideas are at least entitled to be discussed. As public officials, Fair Board members owe it to the community and taxpayers to take every possible step to ensure transparency and good government. The path to good governance must be cleared of any barrier to open and effective public discourse.  I am hopeful that my fellow Board members will join with me at our next meeting to remove the barrier that has been placed before us, which seeks to prevent even having a discussion regarding the citizens oversight committee and forensic audit.———-Nick Berardino

What could Ellis and friends be hiding?  Well, let’s go over what we already know – and remember, 1) we mostly know this through tireless, clever, and lucky detective work by Sale Derailers – and 2) bear in mind the phrase “tip of the iceberg.”  We already know that:

  • The Board paid for two appraisals of the property, although they have routinely denied doing that, and none of us have seen the results;
  • They paid termed-out state Senator Dick Ackerman to do what can only be called “lobbying” to make sure the sale was approved by the legislature, lobbying which certainly appears to be illegal;
  • Both of the above, along with other lobbying by Ellis cronies Brett Granlund’s Platinum Advisors and Ackerman’s services helping to establish the Board’s nonprofit to buy the Fair for themselves, were paid for and kept secret through a complex shell game described here, and the money falsely claimed [“False Claims”] to have been going to some routine maintenance;
  • Also most of the above was approved – in violation of the Bagley-Keene Act – not by the entire board but by Dave Ellis’ little three-person subcommittee, to shield it even more from public scrutiny.

So, not only would a forensic audit further prove and further draw attention to these misdeeds, it would most likely uncover others that we haven’t even dreamed of.  No wonder Chairman Ellis wants to nip it in the bud.

It might be worthwhile to show up to next week’s meeting an support Nick’s two proposals;  and it is just barely CONCEIVABLE that there could be five votes to actually put the question on the next meeting.  Consider:  Out of nine members, there are five who were involved, to one degree or another, in this swindle.  There are two new Brown appointees who (both, presumably) would like to get to the bottom of things.  And in between there are two new-ish memebrs, Ali Jahangiri and Douglas LaBelle, whom Arnold appointed in a rush at the beginning of this year specifically to streamline and rubberstamp his last-minute decisions – but as I observed, once they realized what a legal and political minefield they had just stepped into for a lame duck, they wisely chose to abstain from most votes at their first meeting.

If those four 2011 appointees agreed to one or both of Nick’s proposals, it would only need one of the old members to pass, maybe one who either is sure they personally did nothing wrong or one who would like to come clean and atone.  How’s that conscience of yours feeling, Hayakawa?  Ms. Tucker?

Next Fair Board meeting
Thursday, August 25, 10am to noon
OC Fair & Event Center, Arlington Road just east of Fairview, Costa Mesa



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, or 714-235-VERN.