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Ferndale’s Genevieve Regli is new California FFA state officer

Screenshot photo from FSU live feed
Ferndale High School’s Genevieve Regli, right, reacts when retiring state officer Amanda Skidmore holds up her Ferndale FFA jacket to a crowd of more than 7,000 at Tuesday’s last session of the 89th annual state conference at Fresno’s Selland Arena. Regli was voted in as secretary and will don a new state officer jacket. She will join five other newly-elected state officers on a year’s journey, traveling throughout California representing the more than 85,000 student members who belong to the leadership development organization.

Ferndale High senior will represent 85,000 members of leadership development organization; Regli is second woman from Ferndale elected in California FFA’s 89 years

Before more than 7,000 attendees in the huge Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center’s Selland Arena Tuesday morning, Ferndale’s Genevieve Regli was all tears when retiring California FFA state officer and secretary Amanda Skidmore held up for the last time Regli’s Ferndale FFA blue and gold corduroy jacket to the crowd.

The Atwater FFA member then helped Regli into her new state officer jacket and presented the leadership organization’s new state secretary to a cheering crowd. Regli had beat the odds and had been named one of six state officers to represent the 83,000 member organization and travel throughout the state and nation promoting agriculture, connecting with industry officials and mentoring youth.

As Regli’s father Jim put it on Wednesday morning, “the drought is over.”  He was referring to the fact that the North Coast Region — which Ferndale FFA is a part of and encompasses Humboldt, Del Norte, Sonoma, Solano, Alameda, Mendocino, and Lake Counties — hadn’t had a member elected to the prestigious state officer position in 11 years. Ferndale’s Elizabeth Titus was the last state officer from the North Coast Region and the first female elected from Ferndale. She was elected in 2006.

Regli’s election by the voting delegates at the 89th annual California FFA State Conference was at the conclusion of six days of competition, speeches and voting. She was named one of 45 finalists for six positions earlier in the month after tests and essays, and made the final cut of 12 on Monday after days of rigorous interviews.

An exhausted and ever-so-humble Genevieve Regli spoke to The Enterprise Wednesday morning after arriving home in Ferndale from Fresno at 3 am, having to ride across Hwy 36 due to the new slide on Hwy 101.

“For the past few years, I’ve come home from state conference sad every time because some of my best friends have lost,” said Regli. “You can picture winning, but I just can’t believe it.”

Regli said the support from fellow FFA members was “intense.

“I’m so grateful for everyone that was there for me,” she said. “It really hasn’t set in.”

Regli, two days after graduation from FHS, will move to the California FFA center in Galt to live with her team and travel the state for an entire academic year, providing leadership and training to the more than 85,000 student members of the organization. She will defer her enrollment at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for one year. Regli is currently finishing her year’s reign as District 1 Dairy Princess and said she has several more classroom visits scheduled and the dairy princess contest in May.

Father and dairyman Jim Regli said he was excited that California FFA will have someone representing them who “knows what’s going on in the dairy industry.

“The struggles that ag faces with regulation and the labor shortage,” he said. “The immigration issue — these are real people and lives we are talking about. If she can get that through to our leaders and other agencies throughout the state. Don’t just use people as a political basketball . . . let’s talk about how to engage youth that are lost out there . . . I think those are Genevieve’s strong points and she can articulate them.”

Immigration was the subject of one of Genevieve’s topics in her extemporaneous speaking competition during the conference. (She placed third in the state.)

“As the immigration population continues to rise, we need to make sure that minorities are represented in our organization,” she said.  “It’s super important to make sure that everyone has a part in our organization.”

In addition, Genevieve said she spoke to what immigration reform should include.

“There needs to be a revision of the work visa program for agriculture,” she said, referring to the federal government’s H2-A worker-visa program.

Ferndale High School Principal Jack Lakin said there was a “definite buzz throughout the school” over the last two days as everyone learned about Regli’s advancement. He also spoke to the challenge of rising to a state officer position from a remote area such as Ferndale.

“Even as talented as many of our students are, there is a great challenge as far as our location to overcome,” said Lakin. “The fact that she overcame that further speaks to how dynamic she is as a person and how she has developed at Ferndale High School.”

Former Ferndale state officer and national officer Pete Giacomini, elected to represent California in 1973, also spoke to the obstacles of coming from a smaller region.

“It’s so much harder for kids from the North Coast Region to get elected, simply because it is, as it was when I ran, the smallest region in the state. Matched up opposite another candidate from one of the big three Central Valley regions and a North Coast kid is behind from the beginning against a base of votes in opposition that is hard to overcome. I don’t know who Gen ran against, but she was one with enough talent to overcome that.”

In a memo issued to Ferndale Unified School District staff on Tuesday afternoon, Lakin stated: “This is a tremendous honor for Genevieve, the Regli family, our school and community. This achievement reflects her dedicated work ethic and commitment to family, FFA, the agricultural community, extra-curricular activities and academic success. We are all extremely proud of her.”

Prior to Titus’s election as the California FFA state reporter 11 years ago — she is now an editor for Bloomberg in Manhattan, NYC — Blake Alexandre, a local dairyman, was elected to a state officer position in 1980. Henry Giacomini, a rancher, was elected in 1975. Pete Giacomini, a senior vice president for business development at Cooperative Resources International in Madison, Wisconsin, was elected in 1973.

Meanwhile, Genevieve’s younger brother, Dominic, placed second in the state in the FFA Creed competition. Ferndale FFA member Brandon Brazil won the state proficiency in forage production. “It’s just really great to see great kids from great families like the Reglis in small towns like Ferndale be rewarded this way,” said Pete Giacomini.

(Disclosure:  Elizabeth Titus is the daughter of Enterprise publisher and editor Caroline Titus.)

Ferndale High graduate finds directorial inspiration from growing up in a small town

From the April 20, 2017 print edition

By Ken McCanless

Enterprise contributor

Courtesy Sweeney Photography
Ferndale High School graduate Jacob Cooney on the set of “Pitching Tents.”  Behind him, producer Jane Kelly Kosek.

Ferndale native Jacob Cooney (Ferndale High class of 2000) is bringing his directorial skills back to his hometown in a big way, paving the way for screenings of his new indie comedy “Pitching Tents” at The Old Steeple in Ferndale at 8 pm on Saturday, April 22 and at Mill Creek Cinema in McKinleyville at 8:30 pm on Wednesday, April 26.

Cooney, son of Grizzly Bluff’s Tim and Elaine Cooney, said that originally, the distributor wasn’t looking to target northern California, so he decided to start making the necessary inroads to ensure that interested people could get a chance to see the film in Humboldt County, which in many ways served as an inspiration to Cooney throughout his career. He actually took film classes at Humboldt State in high school before going on to film school at California State University Monterey Bay (shooting his thesis back in Humboldt County) and then moving to Los Angeles, and ultimately New York to work in the movie industry.

“I wanted to bring ‘Pitching Tents’ back to Humboldt not only because I want the local community to take part in its success, but because the film’s story reminds me of my own journey in some ways,” said Cooney. “I wanted to get the movie up there (Northern California) because I felt like people would enjoy it, and I’ve never had a film play up there before out of the number of things that I’ve done, and this was the first opportunity to get it up in the home field and show people what I’ve been up to.”

He said he and the producers and distributors managed to work out the two local screenings. Asked about his motivation, Cooney said that “in general, depending on the project, I have to find something that I feel down to my core, and that’s where the inspiration comes from. The story for ‘Pitching Tents’ really hit me because it’s about an artistic kid in a small town in Pennsylvania who’s looking to figure out what he’s going to do in his future,” describing how his protagonist is torn between adult figures trying to provide guidance and “finds himself” in a frivolous weekend with friends.

According to the film’s press release, “Pitching Tents” finds high school senior Danny Whitaker at a crossroads — will he do what his working-class father thinks is practical and take a job at the local metal factory, or will his “loose cannon” guidance counselor persuade him to enroll in college to save his own job. To escape reality, Danny and his band of misfit buddies head to the woods for the town’s annual rite-of- passage fishing trip. It’s after a wild party that Danny stumbles upon Goddess Camp, the urban legend of “skinny-dipping chicks” that so many horny high-school boys have fantasized about for years. Here he meets Alison, who helps him find the strength he needs to take charge of his own destiny. “Pitching Tents” is unrated with a run time of 93 minutes.

“For ‘Pitching Tents,’ being from Ferndale, growing up in a small town, having a dream and trying to reach that dream, is really kind of what brought me to the story,” said Cooney. He called it a “homegrown attitude” that Ferndale nurtured and has come into his adulthood and into his career. “Having a community that was rallying behind what I wanted to do fostered my ability to achieve my goals and to direct movies and write films and be involved in the entertainment industry,” he said, adding that it was the pushing of parents and friends that allowed him to fully explore his creative faculties and said that without it, “I don’t know if we would be having this conversation.” “Pitching Tents,” as a comedy/drama, is somewhat of a departure from Cooney’s past repertoire of mostly action and horror films. But as Cooney describes, the genre is something he’d like to delve into more deeply.

“In making the movie, I realized that I wanted to make more movies that instead of doing pure entertainment and blowing stuff up or scaring people, I really want to tug at the heartstrings and am now looking for material that along with having those action elements also is more personable to the audience and makes them feel more to their core rather than jumping or saying ‘ooh’ or ‘aah’,” said Cooney.

Cooney lived in LA for 10 to 11 years after college and three or four years ago, he says, moved to the east coast. He says he’s always considered himself more of a director than a writer, saying, “I love writing, I love telling stories, that’s what I love to do regardless of what I’m doing, but my preference is to direct.”

The director had kind words for the entire cast of “Pitching Tents.”

“They really put in the research and the time to understand the characters,” he said. “It was just a really good experience working with them. Working with Jonathan Lipnicki (of ‘Jerry Maguire’ fame) was great, and we talk a lot now and we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to work on next together.”

Cooney said in past projects he had especially enjoyed working with Maury Sterling (“Homeland”), but was especially complimentary of the “core four” youngsters in “Pitching Tents,” consisting of Lipnicki, Marco James, Michael Grant, and Booboo Stewart.

Cooney is coming off a recent trip to Los Angeles where he saw the film premiere on March 30 and then open in theaters the next day. He mentioned that he and the cast “hit Entertainment Tonight, and were on CNN, and talking with a number of newspapers.

“There was a lot going on leading up to it, but once you sat down in that theater and the movie started playing and you started hearing the reactions, you kind of relaxed a little bit,” he said. “Luckily the audience reaction has been really good and you can’t ask much more than that for the audience to enjoy something you put together.”

He said it was good for him and his wife Dana and 17-month-old Emmeline to reconnect with some of their old friends, including some college colleagues and former co-workers, during the LA swing on their “half-work-half-play vacation.”

Those interested in what else Cooney has accomplished in the past decade with his long list of writing, directing, and producing credits can visit, and for more information on the cast and plot of “Pitching Tents,” deemed a coming-of-age 80s comedy, one can visit or the film’s Facebook page.

The local boy summed it up by saying, “Since people of Ferndale helped push me to follow my dreams, I wanted to bring the film back to my hometown not only because I want the local community to take part in its success, but because the film’s story reminds me of my own journey in some ways.”

Possible school cuts listed if small school funds are lost; trustee terms extended one year

From the April 6 print edition

With the uncertainty still surrounding more than $400,000 of Necessary Small School Funding (NSSF) for Ferndale High School, the district superintendent recently announced proposed budget cuts up for discussion during the next school year.

Superintendent Jack Lakin at the district’s March 8 board of trustees meeting handed out a list of up to $464,270 in proposed cuts that could be necessary in the 2018-‘19 school year if the state funding disappears. The district has been paying a Sacramento lobbying firm $1,000 a month for several years now in an attempt to secure the NSSF for Ferndale and a handful of other small districts in the state. The funding was put at risk several years ago and was renewed temporarily but is set to end in the 2018-‘19 school year unless budget language renews the funding or makes it permanent.

The district has a current budgeted reserve level of 21.98 percent (approximately $1.5 million). The state requires a four percent reserve. For the school year 2017-‘18, the reserve is budgeted at 17.70 percent (approximately $1 million) but in ‘18-‘19 it will drop to 5.74 percent if the NSSF isn’t secured.

“There’s hope over the next couple of months that there will be discussions at the budgetary level at the state that will include language in the budget to support the six schools affected,” Lakin told trustees. “It’s such an insignificant amount in the state budget but it’s a matter of finding the right opportunity and person to bring it to the table.”

Worst-case scenario, said Lakin, is that in a year from now, trustees would have to “start to put things in action” by potentially issuing pink slips to employees. The list of potential cuts include eliminating a half-time ag teacher for a cost savings of $32,980; eliminating a full-time reading intervention teacher at Ferndale Elementary for a savings of $90,721; eliminating a half-time art teacher for a savings of $56,229; cutting one full-time teacher for a savings of $70,561; cutting one full time custodial/maintenance employee for a savings of $55,030; eliminating all coaching stipends for a savings of $45,128; eliminating all but basic cleaning for a savings of $30,593; eliminating all non-essential classroom aides for a savings of $71,858 and the cutting of IT services from Fortuna High for a savings of $11,170.

While the NSSF is for the high school, Lakin said the funds go into the General Fund “which supports all our schools.”

“The elementary school always takes the hit,” said trustee Jerry Hansen.

In other district business, trustees voted to approve a resolution which will consolidate the district’s school board elections with the November election during even-numbered years. The approval means that three trustees — Stephanie Koch, Ken Richardson and Jerry Hansen — will serve an additional year and their terms will expire in 2018. Trustees Cory Nunes and JoLynn Jorgensen’s terms will expire in 2020 instead of 2019. The resolution was brought to the board by the Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Garry Eagles. In a letter to district superintendents, he explained that state Senate Bill 415 requires school districts to switch from odd-year elections to even-year elections if the district has had at least 25 percent less than average voter turnout for the previous four statewide elections. While Ferndale’s voter turnout is usually high, Lakin told trustees that most school districts in the county are approving the resolution and that if Ferndale is the only school who doesn’t approve the resolution, it would have to “cover the costs” of an election. Jorgensen moved to approve the resolution.

“In the interest of the cost to the district, I’ll second the motion,” said Koch whose term is now extended a year.

Fair ticket prices to go up but no charge to get into races; fair again exceeds number of courtesy passes allowed by law

From the April 6 print edition

It’ll cost the general public more to go to the 2017 Humboldt County Fair but there will be no separate admission to the horse races. That’s the word from the fair association’s finance committee chair Duane Martin. Martin said general admission tickets will increase from $8 to $10 and that he thinks senior admission prices will go from $6 to $7. Children’s prices will remain at $4, said Martin.

For many years the fair has charged $2 to enter the horse racing facility. Last year it earned $31,436 from racing admissions. In this year’s budget, it has eliminated that revenue, but bumped up its expected general admission revenue from $241,762 to $272,000 for 2017. Martin said the fair board has taken into account an estimated ten percent drop in attendance this year due to the fair being held during the first week of school for most county students. Fair manager Richard Conway moved the fair dates to later in the year. The fair will open on Wednesday, August 23 and conclude on Labor Day, September 4.

Last year, approximately 42,000 adult, senior, child, vendor, exhibitor group, and livestock admissions were sold. In addition, 2,592 “courtesy pass” admissions were given away by the fair association, exceeding the amount allowed by state law. According to California Food and Ag Code Section 3026, the number of courtesy pass admissions for the current fair year cannot be more than four percent of the total number of paid admissions in the prior year. Last year the ratio totaled 5.9 percent. In 2015, the ratio was 5.4 percent, attracting the state’s attention.

In a letter dated October 7, 2016, John Quiroz, branch chief of the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Fairs & Expositions (F&E) Branch told the fair’s general manager that “F&E has concerns regarding the amount of courtesy pass admissions.

“The Humboldt County Fair should devise a policy to reduce the amount of courtesy passes below the four percent limit for future fairs,” said Quiroz.

Fair officials recently submitted their attendance reports — part of the fair’s 2016 Statement of Operations — to the state for approval. Conway and fair board president Tim Renner did not respond to questions from The Enterprise regarding the fair exceeding courtesy pass limits imposed by the state. Total admissions to the annual fair have remained steady since 2013 with 62,760 total admissions to the fair in ‘13 compared to 62,586 in 2016. Admissions revenue, however, has climbed substantially from $178,814 in 2013 to $293,739 in 2016 due in part to the fair cutting back on free days for the public and the fair board shifting portions of its sponsored revenues into its admissions budget category.

Fair drops its reserve; state horse racing agency says Humboldt County Fair is in “financial duress”

From the April 6 print edition

Humboldt County Fair (HCF) officials confirmed this week that 2016 was not quite the banner year they have been touting.

The fair association board of directors released its 2017 budget, which shows that the association dropped its reserve to 11.3 percent at the end of last year from a high of more than 35 percent at the beginning of 2013. It finished the year with a profit before depreciation of just under $5,000, which includes a check for $38,190 from the state’s General Fund. After depreciation, it shows a loss of $71,843. Fair officials told sponsors at the association’s annual dinner in March that revenues were up, and they have issued press releases touting increased revenue. They failed, however, to inform the public about increases in expenses, leaving the fair at year’s end in a weaker position financially from where it started the year.

At the end of 2015, the fair had an operating reserve of 14.4 percent. While revenues were up in key areas of the fair, it was expenses that dampened last year’s results as the non-profit organization spent approximately $97,000 more than it budgeted for a total of $1,846,854. The budget shows operating reserves of $209,343 at the start of 2017.

At a meeting of the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) on Tuesday, members of the joint powers authority board of directors — including HCF General Manager Richard Conway — approved minutes from CARF’s March meeting — which stated that the fair is in “financial duress.” When the HCF Finance Committee Chair Duane Martin was asked by The Enterprise about the description by CARF of the fair’s finances, he replied, “we still have reserves.” Martin then referred to other fairs that “are almost at the point of shutting down too,” adding that he’s not concerned about fair’s reserve and that the reserves are between the state’s recommendation of between “ten and 15 percent.”

“We’d like it to be higher,” he said.  “We’re working on it.”

Martin said he had “no idea” why CARF stated that the HCF was in “financial duress.”

CARF members recently voted to assist the HCF by giving it $30,000, using public funds to pay for a new inner track rail as well as other subsidies.

Meanwhile, CARF Live Racing Committee Chair John Alkire asked Conway and Martin how they were progressing on looking into getting a sales tax initiative on the ballot to help fund the fair such as the Del Norte County Fair did a few years ago. Alkire made the suggestion last month that the HCF pursue a sales tax increase to “help itself.”

“We’re still discussing it,” Conway told Alkire. “We’re having discussions at the board level with our board. It hasn’t gone any further than that.”

After the meeting concluded Martin was asked if the fair board is discussing the sales tax idea, why it hasn’t been on the agenda for fair board meetings, Martin stated, “there’s been very little discussion of it.” When Martin was asked why fair officials don’t paint an entire budget picture for the public, Martin stated, “I’m not the one that makes the acknowledgment to the public.” Humboldt County First District Supervisor Rex Bohn was quoted by the Times-Standard as telling those attending the fair’s annual dinner in March that “revenues are up.” When asked by The Enterprise if he was aware that the fair’s expenses were over budget, Bohn stated via email, “I’m not exactly sure what I apparently said . . . I thought everything was up except racing due to host fees.” Bohn noted that the board of supervisors, via the contract between the county which owns the fairgrounds and the fair association, will approve the fair association’s budget next week.

Coach “J” to retire in June; Kim Jorgensen’s tenure led to record of 247-63 for Ferndale High School varsity Wildcat football team

From the March 16 print edition

By Ken McCanless/Enterprise sports editor

At the March 8 school board meeting, Ferndale Unified School District Board of Trustees President Cory Nunes announced that this school year will be the final year in the career of highly-regarded and “illustrious” educator and football coach Kim Jorgensen at Ferndale High. After 31 years teaching — he is currently an instructor in world civilizations and physical education — and 26 years at the helm of the Wildcat football program, Jorgensen, affectionately known to students and staff as Mr. J, will be surrendering the reins.

Local broadcaster Tag Wotherspoon was available to provide some context for Jorgensen’s teams’ football successes and his personal background. Jorgensen graduated from Ferndale High in 1973 and from Chico State in 1977. While Jorgensen was head coach at Ferndale High—each year since 1991—the team amassed a collective record of 247-63. The team made the North Coast Section playoffs in 25 of the 26 years he coached, and it has an active streak of 21 consecutive playoff appearances. The Wildcats won eight section championships and 19 league championships in his tenure, including 15 straight league championships between 1999 and 2013. His first section championship was an NCS Class B title in 1991 over St. Vincent’s, 38-14, and his last came in 2012, a Division Five championship win over St. Vincent’s, 53-14.

Jorgensen himself followed in the rather large shoes of legendary Ferndale coach Carl Carlson, who patrolled the sideline for 25 years, including 18 league championships and five section titles. Fortuna High School head coach Mike Benbow has been facing off against Jorgensen and the Wildcats in the Milk Can Game since he became a defensive coordinator in 1995 and eventually the head coach in 2008, and he holds Jorgensen in high esteem.

“First and foremost, as a person, he’s just a great guy, and someone that I definitely look up to and when you see him around the community, he’s just a great person,” said Benbow. “I consider him one of my good friends and I hope someday that I have as much of an impact on people as he has. So as a person, he’s just a great man.”

Benbow elaborated on his respect for Jorgensen in touching on the strategic challenge of going against the football teams he coached.

“Just preparing, I know he drove me crazy, because of course, he always seemed to know just the right play to call at the right time, and you had to prepare for everything,” said Benbow. “Anything you didn’t prepare for, it would come up, and over the years I have all these clips of ‘fails’ against him and it just reminds you every year that you have to cover this and that. He’s just a master of knowing where and when to call plays.”

Benbow mentioned how the Wildcats and Huskies have had some memorable battles in the Milk Can Game over the years, but “the constant is just the fact that you always knew you were going to face a very well-coached team, always prepared and always ready to play.”

Jorgensen’s impact extended far beyond the football field. A constant presence at other sporting events, ever-encouraging, he also served as an invaluable, wise mentor over the years consistently offering his own life experiences and a listening ear to many whom he taught and coached, including this writer. The community would also be endlessly amused by the imitations Mr. J faithfully performed every year of his graduating seniors at Homecoming Night. One of those seniors from this year, team captain and quarterback/defensive back Nathan Hansen, shared what he learned taking Mr. J’s classes.

“Coach J puts everyone first and always puts the student before himself,” said Hansen. “If one kid needs extra help he’s always willing to give to that student. I had him in world civ just like every other kid and he was a great teacher, got along well with him, and he’s just a great guy. He’s a pretty laid-back teacher but he gets the job done and you learn his material pretty easily.” “I was around the Ferndale football program my whole life and growing up I always wanted to play for Coach J. I’m glad that I got the opportunity to play for him three out of my four years at high school and that I can say I was his last class. That’s a pretty cool thing to say.”

Hansen also noted that he felt a kinship with fellow former quarterback Jorgensen and expressed appreciation that he was often able to thrive as a coach even given a very limited number of players.

“Most importantly, said Hansen, “he’s a great leader. He passes that on to his kids and a lot of his kids that go through school that either have him as a teacher or as a coach go on to be successful in their lives.”

Over the years, Ferndale High also had some memorable battles against St. Bernard’s High, and head coach of the Crusaders for the last four years, Matt Tomlin, first came to respect Jorgensen as a St. Bernard’s player in the 1990s, and “admires what an outstanding coach he was… when I think about the ‘Friday Night Lights’ TV show, where they have the perfect high school football coach, to me that’s Coach Jorgensen. He’s the perfect high school football coach. That’s what stands out to me about him.” Tomlin elaborated that it’s not just Ferndale that’s losing a great football coach but high school football in general and game itself that are losing a great coach.

Assistant football coach and head softball coach at Ferndale High Jeremy Griffith, who was taught and coached by Mr. J and who himself became a teacher at Ferndale Elementary, speaks to what Jorgensen brought to the table as an instructor.

“He always put everything into perspective for you, how it applies to life and what you can learn from every situation, and taking something out of it not just with sports but just being a better person and being successful,” said Griffith. On the football side of things, Griffith was a sophomore on coach’s first varsity squad in 1991 and after spending some time helping coach junior varsity, transitioned into assistant football coach with the varsity in 1997.

“I’ve been around him as a coach and a teacher since high school,” Griffith said, “And I’ve been coaching a long time, and he’s somebody I’ve always tried to model myself after as a coach in the way that he does things and the way he treats his players and students. “I just think in an era where there’s a lot of screaming down players and belittling players to try to get more out of them, he went about it a different way and did it better than anyone else I’ve ever seen,” said Griffith.

Jorgensen and Ferndale High School Principal Jack Lakin did not respond to requests for comments for this story.

(Editor’s note:  Reporter Ken McCanless is an alumnus of the Ferndale High School Class of ‘99.)

Fair’s general manager says fair board is looking into sales tax increase to fund fair

From the March 9, 2017 print edition

Would Humboldt County voters approve a sales tax increase to help support the Humboldt County Fair (HCF) like voters in Del Norte County did in 2014? That’s a question that was raised Tuesday at a Sacramento meeting of the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF).

The chairman of CARF’s Live Racing Committee urged HCF General Manager Richard Conway to follow the Del Norte County Fair’s lead and look into asking voters to pass a sales tax increase that would funnel money to the non-profit association, which excludes the public from participating in its meetings. Del Norte voters approved a quarter-of-a-cent sales tax increase for seven years.

“What is Humboldt doing to help itself out?” asked Fresno County Fair General Manager John Alkire. “Humboldt should look to the Del Norte County Fair and maybe that would help your situation as well. What Randy (Hatfield, the fair’s GM) did was groundbreaking.”

Conway said that the Humboldt County Fair Association is “talking about” a placing a sales tax initiative on the ballot.

“We’re looking at the best way to address it and move forward with it,” Conway told committee members.

Over the past four years, the fair association’s operating revenue has not kept pace with expenditures. The fair board recently spent approximately $68,000 on legal bills and a settlement with this newspaper’s attorney over making its financial documents available to the public. The Del Norte County Fair is a public entity as a state agricultural association and is governed by public meeting laws. The HCF was an affiliate of a government entity until 2015 when the fair’s board of directors voted to change the association’s historic status to a private non-profit and exclude the public from its business meetings. Occasionally it allows for “community comment” at the beginning of the meetings before the board retreats behind closed doors. At its last meeting in February, it did not allow for any public comment.

The issue of funds for the HCF came up Tuesday during a business item aimed at CARF subsidizing the fair’s horse racing operations in 2017 after it lost $63,683 in revenue and an additional $93,022 drop in purses in 2016. The HCF lost the commissions and purse money after Golden Gate Fields, which runs concurrently with Ferndale, opted to stop subsidizing the HCF in 2016. CARF’s Larry Swartz-lander, interim executive director, told the committee that the joint powers authority couldn’t afford to lose any more racing fairs from its membership. The organization is down to just four racing fairs, having lost the Sonoma County Fair several years ago. It opted to drop out of the organization and conduct its own race meet. CARF provides member fairs with equipment, personnel and a sharing of other resources, including purse subsidies.

Swartzlander asked the committee members to approve a subsidy to the HCF of $30,000 and the payment of approximately $22,000 in CARF excess funds that would have benefit the three other racing fairs.

“The point is, your fellow brethren in CARF are helping you out,” pointed out the California State Fair CEO Rick Pickering.

“We appreciate everyone’s support,” said Conway.

In addition, the committee voted to support a request for public funds from the California Department of Agricultural’s Division of Fairs & Expositions for $33,008 to pay for a new inner rail at the HCF. The California Horse Racing Board stated last year that the inner rail was not safe. Fair officials fought against the decision and the CHRB gave the fair one year to replace the rail. The fair board sold raffle tickets last year to fund the rail and other backstretch improvements. Now, the state will pay for the entire project.

In other business, committee members were briefed on the bleak outlook of prize money that will be offered to horsemen on the fair racing circuit this summer. CARF’s fund used to enhance prize money through the years is “in the hole” according to Swartzlander, and in a big way. Swartzlander projected a $657,596 deficit in its Consolidated Purse Fund in 2017 and that number included several areas of purse reductions, including cutting Ferndale’s prize money by $35,000. Last year, CARF’s fund had to pay $114,086 of the total purses paid in Ferndale. More purse reductions are on the table at the end of 2017, according to a letter from Swartzlander to Conway. Swartzlander also said that he is hoping that the HCF 2018 dates will not be overlapped by any other fair, as has been the case for many years, or by Golden Gate Fields. Exclusive race dates bring a windfall to the HCF but adversely affect other horse racing entities in California. The last time the HCF had one week of exclusive race dates was in 2010. According to Swartzlander, if the HCF had to end racing and/or drop out of CARF, the hit to the joint powers authority would be $68,000.

Fair manager touts uptick in revenues; fails to mention expenses have also increased

From the March 2 print edition

Humboldt County Fair General Manager Richard Conway issued a press release to local media outlets last week, touting an increase in revenue in several categories at the fair since he took over as general manager in 2013. What he failed to mention was that expenses are also up, leaving the fair with a net loss compared to four years ago.

Conway issued the press release in response to inquiries from other news outlets over the fair recently paying from the association’s general fund approximately $68,000 to their lawyer and this newspaper’s lawyer after unsuccessfully defending against a second public records lawsuit filed against the fair association by the newspaper.   The Enterprise sued after the fair refused to again release financial documents to the public.

“In spite of the negative press and distractions of this litigation, the fair board and staff is proud to report over the past four years attendance is up 20%, sponsorships have doubled, food concessions are up 100% and the Junior Livestock Auction reached a new pinnacle in 2016 generating over $700,000 for the first time!,” stated Conway.

However, Conway failed to mention that administration expenses in 2016 were up 16.67 percent from 2012; maintenance expenses were up 9.25 percent; publicity expenses up 44.87 percent; attendance expenses up 26.61 percent; premium expenses up 24.75 percent; horse racing expenses up 5.78 percent and entertainment expenses are up 121.20 percent compared to 2012. (See the HCFA December 2016 Financials here.) In total, according to the fair association’s December 2016 year-to-date profit and loss statement, revenue is up $244,211 or 16.23 percent since 2012. Expenses, however, are up 23.27 percent or $327,212 since 2012. (See 2012 year-end numbers here: 2014 HCFA budget )  (Revenues and expenses from the 2016 Junior Livestock Auction were deducted by The Enterprise in its calculations because they were not similarly included in the 2012 year-end report.) The accounting includes the addition of state General Fund monies received by the fair — funds not given to the fair association in 2012.

Emails from this newspaper seeking comments from Conway, the fair association’s attorney and a majority of the 18 fair board members were not acknowledged. In his press release, Conway called the failure to provide The Enterprise with a requested financial document an “oversight.”

Conway and the association’s pro-bono lawyer each received an email requesting a financial document from this newspaper. After no response, they both received an email from The Enterprise, warning them that if they didn’t provide the requested document they left the newspaper no choice but to seek another “judicial remedy.”

The fair association was ordered by a judge to pay $46,000 to the newspaper’s attorney in January of 2016 for holding back financial documents. (The lease between the association and the county states that all of the association’s financial documents are public records.)

The Enterprise’s attorney took issue with Conway’s assertion that not providing the documents was an “oversight.

“No, the settlement was not the result of a simple, innocent mistake that Ms. Titus is responsible for because she asked for records,” stated Paul Nicholas Boylan of Davis. “The settlement is the result of a flawed strategy that HCFA persisted in following even though there was no chance it would ever succeed. “HCFA’s weird and, frankly, idiotic ‘strategy’ was to change their status to a ‘private corporation’ to justify the argument that HCFA is not to be a public agency subject to the Public Records Act (PRA). Ridiculous. That is like a bunch of cows deciding that they are birds. You can’t change your legal status through a vote. If it looks like a cow and acts like a cow, it IS a cow, regardless of what the cow thinks.

“HCFA did not admit to an oversight. It admitted its legal strategy was dead wrong and agreed to comply with the PRA – which it should have done years ago and, if it did this, it would have saved many thousands of dollars in their own legal costs which don’t include the $66,000 they paid me,” said Boylan.

Conway and board members did not respond to Boylan’s comments.

In his press release, Conway said “it is not the intent of the fair to withhold any requested documents from The Enterprise or anyone else.

“Everyone is glad to hear that because HCFA has spent a small fortune trying to avoid providing everyone with access to its records,” said Boylan. “But that is over now. If they try again, they will get sued again – and this time they can’t pretend they aren’t regulated by the PRA.”

Conway in his press release said that once the requested document was provided, The Enterprise continued the lawsuit showing Enterprise publisher Caroline Titus’s “true intent to inflict hardship upon the fair, not the receipt of the document” and that during the course of settlement discussions, “multiple good faith offers were by the fair but ignored.

“This is completely untrue,” said Boylan. “If HCFA provided prompt access to public records – which the law requires them to do – then they would have paid nothing to me or their defense attorney. The reason my fees went up is because they refused to settle on the terms Ms. Titus demanded – the exact same terms they eventually accepted. They kept sending us unacceptable settlement proposals. When that happens in a lawsuit, the other attorney (me) has to continue to prepare for trial. And that is what I did. HCFA has no one to blame but themselves for this. If they had been reasonable, they would have paid less. But they were unreasonable and stubborn, refusing to emotionally accept that they had lost – again – to Ms. Titus. It is unbelievable that they would even try to blame this on Ms. Titus or me.”

Conway stated that Titus has been on a “four-year campaign to destabilize the fair as retribution to her husband’s non-renewal as general manager.”

“That’s laughable,” said Titus, whose husband was the fair’s GM for 22 years. “The Enterprise has a problem with an 18-member board, that meets in private, behind closed doors, won’t hand over its financial documents but yet is in charge of public property and the spending of public funds. The fair’s insurance refused to cover the fair board for this second public records action. The board shouldn’t have paid a dime to their attorneys and instead agreed instantly to go under the public records law, like the association was for so many years. They have no one to blame but themselves for the wasteful spending of the association’s money.”

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.