BUD’S CORNER: Competence and accountability

By Bud Emerson

Resident, Del Mar

Two of the best reasons to approve the sale of the fairgrounds to the city of Del Mar are to achieve competence and accountability. The current governing structure of the fairgrounds is a board that has neither. Members of the fair board are appointed by the governor (both parties) primarily to reward them for making large political donations.

Experience or know-how are rarely considered and the result is a board that fails the minimum standard for policy-making competence. No private sector corporation could tolerate board members who are so blatantly ill-suited for policy leadership and financial oversight. The current board is a prime example.

It is embarrassing to watch these members in action at their once -a-month meetings. Only one or two of them seem to understand their deliberations, asking few questions, and rubber stamping most agenda items prepared by staff. They are treated like royalty by the staff. Members of the public who do ask questions or make recommendations are often treated rudely as though they are party crashers.

Board members enjoy perks such as free parking spaces, free admission, free meals and drinks, and a VIP box at the races and other events. Board members appear to have little involvement in deciding which events are scheduled or not. They do not question which events make money and which do not. For instance, horse owners report that many lucrative equestrian events are often turned away by the staff in favor of less profitable events, usually without board knowledge or involvement. Board members rarely ask if events will have deleterious impacts on traffic, local communities, or the environment.

Basically, the staff runs the operation without meaningful policy or fiscal oversight. Board members indulge themselves with perks and provide little or no guidance.

Accountability to the state, regional, or local governments is weak or nonexistent. There is no direct line of accountability to voters or the general public. Board members are often re-appointed by the governor as long as their campaign contributions continue to be made.

In summary, we have a political crony board with no accountability — the worst kind of government. Contrast that sorry picture with the governing structure proposed in the Del Mar acquisition. The new board would be appointed by elected leaders in the region, Del Mar, Solana Beach, San Diego, and San Diego County. A clear line of accountability would be established from the board to city councils and supervisors who in turn are accountable to voters in the region.

Board member would be chosen from local populations based on skill sets appropriate to the task: business, environment, financial, equestrian, transportation, planning... The role of the new board would to make policy and provide oversight to the management staff (current management is clearly competent so drastic changes would not be required if they demonstrate ability and willingness to carry out board policies).

The outcome will be far superior to what we have now: a continuation of the fair, equestrian events, agricultural activities. All under the competent policy leadership of a board directly accountable to local voters.