From the February 2 print edition
The Humboldt County Fair belongs to all of us. It does not belong to an 18-member hand-picked insulated group. It does certainly not belong to its former GM or his wife. The financial affairs of the 121-year-old fair and its governing association — mind you a public association for 119 years until it went underground in 2015 — are all of our business.
Take for instance this week’s front page story on how the year shook out for the fair association. This is important stuff given the $7 million-plus economic impact the county fair has on this county. The fair is facing huge challenges in 2017. With its once healthy reserve depleted due to a orgy of spending after it ousted its former GM (full disclosure: he’s married to this editorial writer and is co-owner of this newspaper) and its short-sighted vision to not store the acorns for the winter . . . that being the uncharted waters of holding a fair when most county students are back in school and losing important horse racing subsidies . . . these are challenging times to say the least.
Why the fair’s management and its pro-bono counsel decided to hold back a public financial record after already costing its insurance provider $46,000 and agreeing to not do it again, blows our mind. This time around, with insurance telling the fair board that it was on its own, the board’s stupidity and arrogance cost the fair’s general fund almost $50,000. Never mind that it could have walked away from this whole mess for $5,000 months ago if the fair board had agreed to behave itself and be governed by the California Public Records Act — which it ultimately ended up doing anyway but for a much higher cost. This week’s front page story on the year-end finances of the fair are of the greatest public interest and are part of a continuing story that needs to be told and has been told by this newspaper for 121 years.
Let us remind you, that out of almost 80 fairs and expositions in California, the Humboldt County Fair and the Los Angeles County Fairplex are the only fairs that shut out the public from participating and watching their decision-making processes. How do we know this? We called all of them. Our fair, since 2015, has done 99 percent of its business behind closed doors since kicking the public out of their meetings. What was the motivation to go underground? We dare to say it was a six-page 139-year-old newspaper that won’t be bullied by fair board members’ Trumpesque insults, attitudes and tactics.
Now, more than ever, transparency and a free press are the key to our democracy. Autocracy is not acceptable whether it be on the national level or at the local fair board level. Let’s all hope — because believe us, we are as tired of you of battling this nonsense — that the 78 percent of the fair board made up of men and the 22 percent made up of women get their act together and put an end to forcing us to seek judicial remedies for their management and counsel’s ineptitude.
Our front office wall has no more room for First Amendment, freedom of information and free press awards.