Fair Board Patchwork


By Bud Emerson

Looks like we are going to squander an excellent opportunity to reshape the Fair Board. Instead of making a truly effective, locally-controlled board, we will be grafting on a patch to an already dysfunctional board. Five County Supervisors will be added to the nine political appointees of the Governor — no representation for Del Mar, Solana Beach or San Diego, despite the fact that the fairgrounds touches and impacts all three jurisdictions.

My years of experience working to improve both public and private organizations tells me this entity does not measure up against either standard. The current board has significant structural and operational deficiencies.

Measured as a private entity which pays no rent, gets free state facilities, and pays no taxes, its profit margins are mediocre at best. Without the profitable race track, it would likely not be operating in the black. The politically-appointed board barely meets minimum standards of policy making, operational oversight, and fiduciary responsibility. It is basically a rubber stamp board presiding over an “agricultural” organization with a bad case of mission creep.

As a public entity it also fails badly in terms of transparency, accountability to the public, and democratic representation. The board rarely engages in real policy making, makes no real attempt to understand its local and regional constituents, and exercises little or no operational oversight. It is a rogue government untethered to any voter constituency.

This patchwork restructuring is being guided by a politically ambitious Republican Board President who claims to be speaking for a Democratic Governor. All under the banner of “local control.” We are told this will be a model for restructuring all 58 of the fair boards around the state. Really?

What a shame we cannot make this a model of good governance which meets both private and public sector standards of organizational effectiveness. We could put together a board whose members have real experience and know-how in presiding over large organizations. A board that is mission driven, knows how to make policy, and exercises firm oversight over operations. A board that demands fiscal accountability. A board that represents both local and regional legitimate interests. A board that responds to citizen constituencies. A board that takes responsibility for minimizing environmental impacts such as traffic, noise, light, and pollution of nearby estuaries.

A well structured and prudently managed regional fairgrounds could make enough money from profitable activities to enable it to sponsor regional fair and agricultural activities true to its core mission. And it could do so without so many adverse impacts on local communities and the fragile lagoon environment. A true regional asset.