Author Archives: The Ferndale Enterprise

Editorials: Hats off

From the February 16, 2016 print edition

They say all great leadership starts at the top. Ferndale school board president and marijuana grower Cory Nunes should take that maxim literally. Take your hat off.

We know we’re showing our age but we would argue most would agree that our school board president should show some respect in the Mabel Lowry Library inside Ferndale High School. It’s one thing to embrace the marijuana culture that is sweeping our county; it’s another to show blatant disrespect for the common courtesy of taking one’s hat off while inside a building — especially the halls of a learning institution.

Enterprise staff photo: Ferndale Unified School District Board of Trustees President Cory Nunes, center, with his hat on at a recent school board meeting in the Ferndale High Mabel Lowry Library. On the left, trustee Jo Lynn Jorgensen. To Nunes’ right, trustees Kenny Richardson and Stephanie Koch.

Last week at the Ferndale school board meeting, a group of young, bright and respectful Ferndale Elementary and Ferndale High School students addressed the board of trustees. They faced trustees and looked at our current school board president wearing his hat. We asked during the public comment period what the current policy was at the high school regarding hats inside the building. Nunes wouldn’t answer, defiantly telling us that he and the board are under “no obligation to answer anyone’s questions or comments” made during the public comment portion of the meeting. When we pointed out that Ferndale schools chief Jack Lakin had just answered another member of the public’s questions with a lengthy answer, Nunes said that “staff” would email us a response.

Lakin did just that later in the week, stating that the high school policy regarding hats inside is up to each individual teacher. When we asked about the policy at the elementary school, mum was the word. One look at the school’s handbook on its website and we confirmed that students are not allowed to wear hats inside school buildings.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. If you step up to be on the school board, you are held to a higher standard. You are a role model for our young citizens. Please, for pete’s sake, show them some respect.

Meanwhile, it blows our mind that school trustees or the disrict’s superintendent have not mentioned one word about the failed bond measure since it went down to defeat in November. It amazes us that trustees haven’t formed a community group and figured out what went wrong and how, perhaps, the district can return to voters with a smaller bond and a better and more transparent communication plan. Lakin has been busy placing blame in his opinion piece in the county newspaper for the bond’s failure, but doing no reflection.

There’s no doubt our schools need fixing. At the top of the list should be the boys urinals at the elementary school. The broken down and plastic-covered urinals made a great poster child for the bond, but as we’ve mentioned before they are a disgrace for our school. We’ve spent money on new surfaces for tennis courts and a playground, not to mention raises across the board. Isn’t it only fitting that we spend money on a basic need for our students? We urge the board to convene a community focus group with an electic mix of district residents to reflect on the bond measure, the failed campaign and what new transparent and honest leadership might bring to fix and preserve our schools. Time is of the essence and our children deserve better.

Fair board’s public records attorney bills continue to climb

From the February 16, 2016 print edition

With a new invoice from the Humboldt County Fair Board’s Oakland-based attorney arriving in the mail this month, the board’s total cost for unsuccessfully attempting to avoid being placed under the California Public Records Act for its financial documents, has now reached $68,152.02. All of the money is coming from the fair’s general fund since the association’s insurance refused to cover the fair board for getting itself into a second lawsuit after it failed for a second time to turn over public financial documents.

The fair board’s latest attorney bill was for $4,461 in January.

The board settled its second public records lawsuit filed against it last spring by this newspaper at the end of January. The suit was filed after the fair’s general manager, Richard Conway, and the board’s pro-bono attorney ignored multiple requests for financial documents from The Enterprise, despite being warned the fair association would be sued if it didn’t provide the documents.

The fair association was ordered to pay The Enterprise’s attorney $46,000 in January of 2016 after it ignored requests from this newspaper. That check was written by the fair’s insurance provider who subsequently refused to cover the fair board after it violated a Memorandum of Understanding, stating that the fair association would abide by the wording in the lease between the county and the fair association, which states that all financial documents of the fair association are public.

With no insurance, the fair association has now written out checks to two lawyers to defend them in the second lawsuit for approximately $47,000 (approximately $3,825 to attorney Jill England of Sacramento and $43,327 to Randy Andrada of Oakland) plus a $21,000 check to The Enterprise’s attorney (Paul Nicholas Boylan of Davis) for his costs.

In the January invoices from Andrada to the fair association, obtained by The Enterprise on Monday, the fair paid Andrada to call Eureka City attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson “regarding Humboldt County courts” and Judge Dale Reinholtsen. Reinholtsen was the superior court judge who in January of 2016 ordered the fair association to pay $46,000 to The Enterprise attorney after the association was sued the first time by this newspaper for ignoring financial document requests. Day-Wilson, who once was paid to tutor the fair board on the state’s open meeting laws, has gone to battle with the North Coast Journal over public records and lost.

The settlement reached between this newspaper and the fair association calls for the association to be under the regulations of the California Public Records Act, as it was since the law was established in 1968.

In 2015, the fair board changed the association’s long-standing status as an affiliate of a public entity into a non-profit corporation and closed its doors to the public for its business meetings and public records. Prior to that, The Enterprise had attended and reported on fair board meetings since the fair association began in 1896. However, since the lease between it and the county states that all financial documents are public records, the fair board was unable to keep the public from accessing the association’s financial records.

Fair board directors, its general manager and its pro bono counsel have not responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit, the settlement and the amount of money the board has spent on attorneys.

School superintendent to retire June 30

From the February 16, 2017 print edition

Ferndale schools chief Jack Lakin’s last day on the job is June 30. Ferndale Unified School District Board of Trustees President Cory Nunes announced at the conclusion of a closed session February 8 that Lakin had submitted his resignation.

Lakin has been at the helm of Ferndale schools since the beginning of the 2010 school year. The step-son of former long-time Ferndale High Principal and district superintendent Charlie Lakin, Jack Lakin was hired after the district booted Sam Garamendi in 2009, kicking off a federal court wrongful termination lawsuit that the board ultimately settled, costing the district’s general fund more than $140,000.

Lakin graduated from Ferndale High in 1972.

Asked by The Enterprise in October if he planned to retire at the end of the current school year, he stated via email, “An interesting thought but not nearly old enough to consider retirement.”

After Nunes announced Lakin’s resignation, nothing was mentioned throughout the rest of the meeting about the next steps regarding finding and hiring a superintendent and high school principal. At the conclusion of the meeting, Lakin asked trustees if they had any other items for future agendas. Trustees were silent. The Enterprise then suggested that perhaps the board wanted to discuss a replacement plan for Lakin.

“We should schedule a board meeting to discuss it,” said trustee Stephanie Koch. That meeting is tonight at 7 pm in the high school library. Debra Kingshill, coordinator of personnel services for the Humboldt County Office of Education, will discuss search parameters.

Fair ends year with loss; horse racing huge drain on budget

From the February 2, 2016 print edition

Its 2016 theme may have been “one for the books,” but when those responsible for running the Humboldt County Fair Association (HCFA) and the fairgrounds look back on last year’s results, 2016 might not end up on their best-seller list.

Figures released for Monday night’s meeting of the HCFA board of directors, show that a negligible increase in 2016 revenues were more than offset by cost increases in several critical areas.

According to year-end financial statements released by the HCFA, the organization generated $1,784,883 in revenues from its 2016 operations, compared to the $1,776,000 it had budgeted, for an increase of just $8,883 (before depreciation). It was expenses, however, that dampened last year’s results as the non-profit organization spent $43,500 more than it budgeted to run the operation, with actual costs coming in at $1,793,506, compared to $1,750,000 (also before depreciation).

Based upon the financial information presented, it was horse racing that put a damper on last year’s performance for the association.

According to its profit and loss statement, revenues from horse racing dipped to $464,570 in 2016, compared to the $540,315 generated in 2015 and the $536,000 budgeted for last year. Horse racing expenses presented a double whammy on 2016 results for the fair, as costs jumped to $501,324, up from last year’s total of $494,427 and more than the $484,000 that was budgeted.

Costs attributed to the administration of the fairgrounds once again took a significant upward turn, jumping from $230,400 in 2014 and $271,000 in 2015 to $305,000 last year.

Much of the $71,000 lost in 2016 racing revenues can be attributed to the HCFA not receiving a subsidy from its counterpart, Golden Gate Fields (GGF), which runs horse racing concurrently with the HCFA. In the years leading up to 2016, GGF had agreed to share some of its profits generated during overlap with the HCFA. As reported in the September 1, 2016 issue of The Enterprise, it wasn’t until just before last year’s fair and race meet the HCFA representatives realized that the subsidy would not be coming their way. Those same representatives were in attendance at a 2015 meeting of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), when 2016 race dates were approved and GGF informed those in attendance that it would be paying to Ferndale only what the law required, an amount that did not include the additional subsidy. That announcement seemed to have been missed by HCFA representative and pro bono attorney Jim Morgan and fair GM Richard Conway, both of whom were in attendance at the CHRB meeting when GGF representative Scott Daruty presented his company’s position.

The double-hit from horse racing, along with higher administrative costs, wiped out gains in other areas of the fair operations that would have otherwise resulted in a more positive outcome. While 2016 admission revenue for the fair remained close to the prior year ($273,000 vs. $269,471) more substantial increases came in the area of concessions ($328,321 vs. $303,489), sponsorships ($184,141 vs. $143,331) and non-fair activities ($236,878 vs. $197,700). In addition to revenues generated from its own activities, the HCFA also received financial assistance from the State of California, which allocated $38,190 to support the fair’s general operations, which will help close the gap on losses this year.

Since 2012, the HCFA has seen its operating reserve fund decrease from $494,108 to $253,355 at the beginning of 2016. HCFA’s beginning 2017 reserve will not be official until it submits its budget in the coming weeks. Whatever level those reserve funds turn out to be, they will play an important role in supporting the HCFA as it begins plans to produce the annual event one week later in the calendar this summer.

Based upon a decision made last year and supported by the HCFA, 2017 fair dates will be from August 23 through September 4, dates which will likely overlap at least the second week of the fair with the opening of most school districts throughout Humboldt County. When contacted, fair officials did not respond to inquiries by The Enterprise about the year-end financial reports. The bright spot for the 2016 fair, as it usually is each year historically, was the annual junior livestock auction which exceeded the $700,000 mark in sales last August — returning huge dividends to junior livestock exhibitors. The fair association retains a small amount of funds left from a commission withheld from sellers’ checks which pays for auction costs.

Editorial: Inexcusable

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. 

Ferndale Elementary featured in state lottery campaign; on-line promotion to feature celebrity Guy Fieri

(Enterprise staff photo) Former Ferndale Elementary School teacher Fran Moriarty Fischer talks to celebrity and former Ferndale resident Guy Fieri on Friday in front of the school’s marquee.

 

 

Television star and former Ferndale resident recognizes influential teacher

From the February 2, 2017 print edition

Guy Fieri, the Food Network star and former Ferndale resident, made his eighth grade teacher cry on Friday.

Fran Moriarty Fischer is now busy deciding where in the world she would like to take a cruise to after Fieri, a student in Fischer’s class some 36 years ago, told her in the Ferndale Elementary School gym during a video shoot for the California Lottery that he was sending her on a cruise to thank her for being a teacher that influenced his life.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do forever,” said Fieri, who was in Ferndale for two days shooting promotions for the California Lottery that will be seen on an internet campaign designed to promote the lottery and education. “Not everyone can give their teacher a cruise but everyone can thank their teachers.”

Fieri, said Fischer, was a small, talkative eighth grader with a “very big heart.” She encouraged him to get involved with the first National History Day Contest with an entry about his “Awesome Pretzel Cart” that he and his father, Jim, had built and that would propel Fieri into his business and food career.

“I wasn’t a real good student at the time,” said Fieri. “But she really encouraged me. On the day of the presentation, Fran drove to Ferndale from Eureka, picked me and the pretzel cart up, and drove me to Humboldt State. I did the competition and ended up winning, which took me to the national competition in Washington, D.C.”

Fieri said that winning the local and state National History Day Contests was a “really big deal” for him. “It was an influential time for me and was a huge launch pad, kinda like seeing the forest for the trees,” recalled Fieri.  “After that, I finished the school year with better grades than I had ever had and went on to high school.”

Fieri attended Ferndale High before heading to France in his junior year for as a foreign exchange student.

“I’ve always credited Charlie Davidson (another retired Ferndale Elementary School teacher) for kicking my ass and then Fran for molding it,” joked Fieri. “I wasn’t paying attention in class and Charlie got me to do that. When I got in trouble for talking in class and had to stay after school, I was really upset. I hadn’t stayed after school once that year and Fran sat there and said, ‘you just have to control your information.’ Those were the types of things that said at the right time from the right people make the biggest difference in your life. So, I’ve always had this admiration for my teachers.”

Fast forward to 2017 and when Fieri was selected by the California Lottery to be part of a campaign aimed at clarifying the lottery’s contributions to California schools and to promote education, his connection with his eighth grade teacher came full circle.

“I’ve always wanted to tell this teacher what she did for me, and I wanted others to hear it,” said Fieri. “I told the lottery people that I don’t want to do this because I need another project. She represents all teachers than have unsung positions and should be getting recognition.”

And when Fieri described the “picturesque” town that he grew up in, where “everyone participates in the schools,” the lottery was sold on Fieri being the celebrity for the campaign.

“We needed someone to fit our brand and was appropriate and had an authentic story to tell,” said the lottery’s Russ Lopez, deputy director of the corporate communications division. “Guy Fieri was one of everyone’s top picks. It was a no brainer. He appreciates where he comes from.”

Lopez said the campaign is aimed at showing that the lottery is supportive of public education but also to explain that the lottery won’t solve all of education’s problems.

“One of the things Governor Brown wanted us to talk about in a real and honest way is what the California Lottery is actually doing for public schools,” said Lopez. “Some of the problems originated in 1984 when the California Lottery Act was passed and that was that we were going to solve all the schools’ problems and that was not the case. There was $1.5 billion-plus given to public education last year from the lottery but that’s a modest amount after you divide it between K-12 schools, community college campuses and the CSU and UC campuses. People don’t realize that it is applied to all those institutions.”

That $1.5 billion was part of $6.5 billion in lottery ticket sales.

The Ferndale Unified School District last year received $105,931 and spent $53,869 on personnel costs; $3,305 on textbooks and $16,734 on materials and supplies. The remainder was carried over to this year’s budget, according to the district’s business manager.

Meanwhile, the lottery filming crew after concluding a shoot in an elementary school classroom with Fieri headed to Ferndale High to film in the school’s updated foods room and learn about its “farm-to-table” culinary program.  District Superintendent Jack Lakin did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

In another plus for Ferndale, People Magazine sent a photographer to cover Fieri’s trip to Ferndale last week. Lopez said a story will be on People.com and that he’s waiting to hear if the print edition will also be running a story. As for Fischer — who taught eighth grade for three years and kindergarten for three years at FES before heading to Cutten Ridgewood Elementary School for 26 years — she has yet to decide where she will take her cruise. As she wiped away tears last Friday she remembered Fieri’s family inviting her to dinner several times throughout the school year.

“Where in the world do people invite the teacher over for dinner?” she said. “This is such an amazing place.” And as for Fieri’s success, Fischer said she knew her former student was “going places. “I was surprised at the immensity of his success but I knew he’d be a success,” she said.  “His parents wouldn’t let him be anything but a success. That’s what every kid needs, cheerleaders behind them.”

Fair board settles second public records lawsuit; With insurance dropping fair’s coverage for second public records action, refusal to turn over financial documents cost association approximately $50,000

From the 2/2/17 print edition

For the second time in one year, the Humboldt County Fair Association (HCFA) will write a check to this newspaper’s attorney as a result of the fair association withholding financial documents from the public.

HCFA board members agreed at a meeting Monday night to pay $21,000 to The Enterprise’s attorney to settle a lawsuit filed by this newspaper in April of 2016 after the HCFA withheld requested financial documents — despite being asked by this newspaper in four separate emails for the documents and being warned that if they didn’t turn the request documents over they would be sued.

The fair association will also sign an agreement stating that it will now operate under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) when it comes to this newspaper requesting financial documents.  The CPRA contains procedures for resolving conflicts between agencies that want to keep records and information secret and those who believe an agency has the duty to release records and information.

The HCFA’s lease with the county of Humboldt, which owns the fairgrounds, states that all financial records of the HCFA are public documents.

One year ago a Humboldt County Superior Court judge ordered the fair to pay Enterprise attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan of Davis $46,000 in fees and costs after this newspaper sued for the first time in 2015. That lawsuit came about after this newspaper sent dozens of emails to the fair’s general manager and its legal counsel requesting financial documents. After the fair’s Oakland attorney ignored The Enterprise’s request, the newspaper sued.

Along with the fair association paying this newspaper’s attorney fees last year, the association also signed a Memorandum of Understanding that it would not withhold records again. That MOU was ignored by the fair association, resulting in the latest lawsuit.

While last year’s check for $46,000 was written by the fair’s insurance provider, the current $21,000 check will come out of the fair’s own budget. That’s because the fair’s insurance refused to cover the association after it again ignored this newspaper’s request and was sued for the second time. Along with the $21,000 check, the fair association as of December 8, 2016 had written checks totaling $28,023 to its own attorney involved in the records dispute. The fair board hired Oakland’s Randy Andrada.  He was the fair board’s defense attorney in the First Amendment and free speech lawsuit filed against the fair board in 2014 by its former general manager, Stuart Titus, who is married to The Enterprise publisher and editor.

That case was also settled a year ago, when the fair’s insurance agreed to pay $150,000 to the former GM. After The Enterprise was forced to file suit against the fair association last April so it could obtain the public financial documents, The Enterprise’s attorney offered to settle the case for $5,000 in fees and costs. The fair board did not accept the offer.

The fair’s general manager, board members and its pro-bono attorney did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Insight as to why the fair’s insurance provider refused to cover the fair association is public record and emails were obtained by The Enterprise detailing the behind-the-scenes infighting between the fair association, its pro-bono attorney and its public insurance provider. A claims manager for the California Fair Services Authority (CFSA) — a joint power authority from which the fair buys its liability insurance — sent an email on July 5, 2016 to the entire 18-member fair board and general manager Richard Conway, telling the group not to go over her head when it came to the issue of denying coverage for the claim. The email suggests that the fair board look to sue its own pro-bono attorney, Jim Morgan of Walnut Creek. Morgan in March of 2016 announced that he would be handling financial record requests, along with Conway. CFSA’s Barbara Tyler in her email to board members stated that Morgan failed to provide to this newspaper the requested documents.

“It may be prudent for the HCFA to look to Mr. Morgan’s legal malpractice insurance for some contribution to this litigation,” said Tyler.

In an email on June 28, 2016 from Morgan to Tyler, Morgan blames the situation on this newspaper publisher and editor — the person who requested the financial documents.

“I see Caroline’s (Titus) divisive genius is now pitting those trying to support the Humboldt County Fair against one another,” wrote Morgan, who then took issue with Tyler’s conclusions that the fair association “knowingly violated” the MOU established with the prior lawsuit so as to avoid another lawsuit. “Any of us could have sent it, none of us did and that is not a ‘knowing violation’ of anything,” stated Morgan. “This is an unfortunate case of dropping the ball and not following up, it is not a case of intentional wrongdoing. Negligence remains covered.”

Tyler didn’t buy Morgan’s argument.

“Mr. Morgan’s analysis of this situation is inaccurate,” she wrote board members.  “He made no evaluation of the pleadings and merely stated coverage should be based on negligence which clearly demonstrates his inexperience with insurance coverage law.”

The Ferndale Enterprise has been battling HCFA over access to financial information for years,” said Enterprise attorney Boylan. “The primary sticking point has been whether HCFA is obligated to provide The Enterprise with access to the records The Enterprise requests. This settlement is designed to end that dispute and The Enterprise is confident that HCFA will be more transparent in the days ahead.”

Documents show school board president’s involvement in commercial marijuana operation more than a “property owner;” Nunes is co-manager

From the January 5, 2017 print edition

Documents filed with the county of Humboldt show that Ferndale Unified School District Board of Trustees President Cory Nunes’ involvement with an existing one-acre commercial marijuana grow in Hydesville is more than just as a future property owner, as he recently stated.

A December 22 Times-Standard article about Nunes’ recent appointment as school board president reported that Nunes said he would be involved “with the business as property owner.”

“I’m buying the property,” Nunes told the newspaper.

Documents filed by Nunes with his application for a commercial marijuana business permit show that he is an active co-manager and member and one-third owner of two corporations formed to lease the one-acre parcel, currently owned by a Fortuna resident.

Nunes did not respond to a text message or email seeking comment for this story.

Nunes’ partners are Doug and Don Almand, who both list Ferndale post office boxes. Doug Almand was living in Ferndale recently and, with his wife, held a “dahlia festival” at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds for several years. The Hydesville one-acre grow, which according to Nunes’ application to the county has been in business long enough “to be in good standing,” is located on property owned since 1992 by Fortuna’s Sharon Holt. Holt has leased the property to the trio for a period of ten years, beginning on April 1, 2016. The three have formed two limited liability corporations:  CDD, LLC and Hawk Valley Farms, LLC. According to Nunes’ application, Nunes and the two Almands are the managers of Hawk Valley Farms and comprise its board of directors.

“The primary co-manager is responsible for delegating primary activities pertinent to the organization’s daily and future management decisions,” states the application. “The secondary co-manager is responsible for financial oversight, sales transactions, planning and budgeting, banking recordkeeping, control of fixed assets. The last co-manager is responsible for administrative, record keeping and reporting requirements pertinent to the organization and overseeing the functions of the organization’s compliance efforts.”

According to the hundreds of pages of documents in Nunes’ permit application file, there are no records of any pending sale of the property to the new school board president — only the ten year lease agreements.

Part of Nunes’ application involves a Water Resource Protection Plan, since the one-acre site on River bar road is near a water source. Timberland Resource Consultants, which prepared part of the application on behalf of Nunes’ and his corporations, has cited numerous areas on the property that need to be cleaned up. They include a location with a large pile of plastic agriculture trays, garbage bags and plastic pots. Another location has a collection of six oil barrels, full of oil and rusty.

“These barrels are in subpar condition and pose an immediate threat to leaking or seepage,” states the plan. “These oil barrels need immediate containment or disposal of these materials.”

Fair manager’s gamble puts 2017 fair into Labor Day

From the December 21, 2016 print edition

Humboldt County Fair General Manager Richard Conway placed a bet on the fair’s 2017 dates that returned very little last Thursday when the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) sealed the fair’s dates as August 23—September 4.

Conway made the motion — at a February 2 meeting of the public entity that helps put on the fair’s racing meet — to move to Labor Day weekend and operate when most county students during the second week of the fair are back in school. He made the motion at a California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) Live Racing committee meeting to move later in the year with an asterisk that the fair should get lucrative stand-alone dates. CARF, however, doesn’t decide when fairs and other race tracks can race. And, historically, CARF — when it comes to the decision-making hour — has not advocated for Ferndale to run its racing dates “unoverlapped.”

The CHRB decides racing dates, and, as history has shown, other racing “stakeholders” don’t want Ferndale to be the only racetrack running in prime August dates in Northern California because the industry as a whole loses money. Simply put, Ferndale is too small and its handle too weak to be granted “host” status for two weeks and benefit the most from the satellite-wagering that goes on in the northern part of the state.

Those stakeholders weighed in big time with the state racing board and by the time CHRB commissioners decided the issue primarily at their November 17 meeting, it was too late for Conway to do a “do-over” on his risky gamble. Ferndale had given up its “always in August” dates.

At last Thursday’s meeting of the CHRB, as reported would happen in several earlier editions of The Enterprise, commissioners sealed Ferndale’s dates in a matter of minutes, confirming an announcement from the Sonoma County Fair on when it will run — which in turn finalized Ferndale’s dates.

Conway, when reached earlier in the month, told The Enterprise that he had no comment on the situation until the CHRB officially finalized the dates, which it did last Thursday. He did not respond to a list of questions emailed to him this week. Fair association board members and the board’s pro-bono counsel also did not respond.

The association did pay its marketing firm to issue a press release that was not provided to The Enterprise. The Times-Standard published the news release, which stated that Conway and the board of directors are “confident the fair will be as strong as ever.”  The release also stated that the junior livestock program will “likely” move to the first week of the fair.

Directors have cancelled their December regular monthly meeting, according to the fair’s Lisa Hindley.

On the fair’s Facebook page, more than 30 people commented on the dates’ change. The majority were displeased with the date change.

“Many people are out of town Labor Day weekend,” said Lori LaMar. “Labor Day weekend seems like a bad choice,” said Wendy Head-Chapman. “You will have difficulty getting teenage workers too.”

“What happened to always in August?” asked Patrick Rutherford.

In the fair’s press release, former board president Dave Mogni stated that the LA County Fair and Fresno County Fair have traditionally run successful programs in October when schools are underway.

The only time Ferndale managed to obtain lucrative racing dates as the only racing entity during running in the north was in 2010 — that 4-3 decision by the CHRB brought a windfall of racing revenue to the fair. In 2011-2015, Ferndale managed to negotiate a side deal with Golden Gate Fields (GGF) — the Bay Area track that runs during the same dates as Ferndale — to provide it with some extra subsidies. Conway lost those subsidies this year, approximately $140,000, when the fair failed to cement the agreement with Golden Gate Fields. In August of 2015, a GGF spokesperson stated at a CHRB meeting that it wouldn’t pay Ferndale the subsidy anymore. The Humboldt County Fair, almost a year later, attempted to protest GGF’s decision to the CHRB, but had no ground to stand on, according to the CHRB’s legal counsel.

(Disclosure: The Enterprise editor/publisher is married to the fair’s former general manager.)

Police chief says no to pot festival planned for Humboldt County Fairgrounds

From the December 21, 2016 print edition

It appears that the Humboldt County Cup — a cannabis competition scheduled for January 21, 2017 at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds — may have been snuffed out by Ferndale’s police chief.

Chief Bret Smith said that he met with the fairgrounds general manager, Richard Conway, and has informed him the proposed activities are “inconsistent with state and local law.” Emails to the event’s organizer and to Conway were not returned by this edition’s deadline.

“My concerns were the following,” stated Smith in an email to The Enterprise. “Smoking marijuana in public is still prohibited under Proposition 64,” wrote the chief, referring to the proposition legalizing recreational marijuana passed by state voters in November. “Use/smoking marijuana and/or its by-products within 1,000 feet of a school. Smoking in or around publically-owned buildings/facilities. Ferndale City ordinance prohibiting dispensing (selling, giving away, etc.) marijuana.”

Smith said that he has advised the event organizer that he cannot recommend or “sign-off” on the event moving forward. “I have suggested they pursue activities that conform to state and local law or consider an alternative venue/location for the event,” said the chief.

After Main Street resident Richard Hooley raised concerns about the event at the November Ferndale City Council meeting, the chief was asked by Mayor Don Hindley to meet with the organizer and fairgrounds staff. Event organizer Matthew David Smith-Caggiano said to The Enterprise on November 28 that “people are able to ‘smoke’ cannabis anywhere in California where smoking of tobacco can occur.

“Our security will be enforcing any medical or adult use of cannabis on the fairgrounds to be directed in a designated area only. The designated area will be away from other general public areas.”

Smith-Caggiano was asked recently to remove the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce logo from its social media sites after the event erroneously stated the chamber was a sponsor. Smith-Caggiano in response said he was only attempting to drive business to Ferndale’s lodging and eating establishments.

Meanwhile, on the Humboldt County Cup Facebook page and the cup’s website, tickets as of Wednesday were still being advertised for sale with a contest entry deadline of December 15. Live music is planned for the event, as well as vendors. The fairgrounds and its management found themselves in a similar situation with the city of Ferndale in October of 2014 after they approved a rap concert, only to have the chief refuse to sign off on a liquor license, citing concerns over security.