By Joe Tash
One day before the 2011 San Diego County Fair opened for business, three veteran members of the board of directors that governs fairgrounds operations got the news: Gov. Jerry Brown no longer required their services.
Little explanation was given before or after for the phone calls, which came on Thursday, June 9, on the eve of the Friday opening of this year’s run of the county fair. Fair board president Barry Nussbaum and members Vivian Hardage and Kelly Burt were told their dismissals took effect immediately.
“These were three individuals who served at the pleasure of the governor. When new appointments are made, they will be announced,” said Evan Westrup, Brown’s spokesman, on Monday.
Nussbaum, Hardage and Burt were members of the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors, which oversees operations at the state-owned Del Mar fairgrounds. Members of the volunteer, nine-member board are appointed by the sitting governor to four-year terms.
The terms of seven board members, including the three dismissed last week, are currently expired; the terms of the remaining two board members expire in January.
“By next year, Governor Brown will be able to reconstitute the board entirely,” said Nussbaum, who lives in the unincorporated area east of Del Mar, and had served on the fair board for 13 years. Nussbaum is CEO and founder of BNC Real Estate, a real estate investment firm.
The potential for sweeping change on the fair board comes at a pivotal time for the 406-acre coastal property, which includes the fairgrounds and the Del Mar Racetrack. A proposal remains on the table for the city of Del Mar to purchase the property from the state for $120 million, while the fair board is moving forward with a controversial master plan calling for upgrades and additions to the property.
Fair board members didn’t question Brown’s prerogative to remake the panel with his own appointees, but the method of carrying out the decision and its timing have left some scratching their heads. The announcement came on the eve of the biggest annual event at the fair, when the board is on hiatus, with no meetings planned until August.
Hardage, a Fairbanks Ranch resident who has served on the board for six years and is battling cancer, said she was receiving an infusion at her doctor’s office when a message about the dismissal was left on her cell phone by an aide to the governor.
“I actually was kind of stunned they would step outside the bounds of normal courtesy and leave a message on my cell phone,” said Hardage. “It did come as a surprise, especially the manner in which it was handled.
“I’d just be curious to know what the thinking was, why it was so important to do it at the beginning of the fair. Especially when there are no meetings until August,” said Hardage, who co-founded, along with her husband, Samuel, the Vision of Children Foundation, which raises funds to seek a cure for hereditary childhood blindness.