By Joe Tash
Citing his frustration with certain practices of the state agricultural district that oversees the Del Mar fairgrounds, and his inability to enact reforms, fair board member Tom Chino has resigned from his seat.
Chino announced his decision Tuesday, Feb. 14, in an email to fellow board members and district staff. The decision came a month after Chino’s fellow board members questioned at the district’s regular meeting whether his relationship with a local attorney constituted a conflict of interest.
In the email, Chino cited what he called improper payout of funds to employees — a buyback program for leave hours which was criticized in recent state audits of the fairgrounds — and “the distribution of thousands of dollars of free tickets, concert admissions, free meals and the like to board members and others without proper record keeping…”
Chino went on to write that his efforts to address issues raised by the audits, and to assure that board committee meetings and other meetings with state and federal officials be open to the public, did not win support by the board.
“The message was clear that this board is not interested in pursuing these issues that I feel must be addressed. Instead of addressing these serious issues some board members embarked on a personal attack on me and my personal attorney implying that I was leaking confidential closed session information about lawsuits in which the district is involved,” Chino wrote.
Chino denied at the board’s January meeting that he had ever discussed confidential district information with Dwight Worden, his personal attorney, and also denied the allegations in his resignation email.
Chino and four others were appointed to the fair board in August by Gov. Jerry Brown. His resignation leaves the nine-member panel with seven members.
The board members are unpaid and appointed by the governor. The terms of board president Adam Day and members Russ Penniman and Ruben Barrales are expired.
The board oversees the operation of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which in turn runs the state-owned fairgrounds, including the Del Mar racetrack.