Fair group reverses course

Less than a month after the Island County Fair Association renamed itself Friends of the Fair to quell an ongoing records controversy, the friends are no more.

The organization voted Monday to change its name back to the Island County Fair Association.

Fair board chairman Dan Ollis said the membership decided that the earlier change was a “knee jerk” reaction.

The group decided that abandoning the name it had for nearly 90 years was a bad move, despite continued debate in the press and public about the roles and responsibilities of the fair association and its fair board.

The fair association changed its name on March 12 after a meeting in Everett with representatives from the state Auditor’s Office and the state Attorney General’s office. Fair, county and state officials talked about how the fair association had commingled private funds with public money from the county’s coffers, and representatives from the state said the fair needed “to clean up what has occurred and specify what the association does and what the board does,” according to notes from the meeting made by a state audit manager.

Association President Diane Divelbess said when the name was first changed it seemed logical and appeared like an easy way out, because it provided a visible separation between the Island County Fair Association Board of Directors and the Island County Fair Association.

More recently, however, some fair association members regretted the loss of the historic name. The Island County Fair Association filed incorporation documents with the state of Washington in 1923, making it one of the oldest fair organizations in the state.

“We felt sad about the name; Island County Fair Association is an old name. What we should do is retain the name and think about restructuring,” Divelbess said.

The fair association is holding an open meeting on May 5 to discuss how to revise the structure, Divelbess said.

The name change had been the association’s idea, said Sadie Armijo, an audit manager in the state Auditor’s Office who attended the meeting with three other state officials.

During that meeting, there was much talk about fair money — what would be considered “public” money subject to official oversight and what would be considered “private” funds controlled by the fair association.

“There needs to be an agreement for the fair association. There needs to be an agreement between what the county’s responsibilities are versus what the fair association’s responsibilities are,” Armijo said. “Define them both, and clearly define how they’re going to be managing these funds.”

According to notes from the meeting, the state will review what the county has done to monitor the fair board during a state audit this summer. The state will also review any agreement that will be put in place between fair officials and the county.

Ollis said the name change came because he and Fair Administrator Sandey Brandon wanted to clear away any confusion concerning the public status of the association. Brandon and Ollis represented the fair at the March meeting with state officials.

Divelbess was not certain what impact the change would have on the public perception of the group, or if confusion about the separation of the non-profit side of the association and its public work for the county fair would flare up again.

“I hope not,” she said.

The fair board also met Tuesday.

Ollis said the board found a replacement for Buzz Strout, who had resigned from the board due to stress and health reasons amidst the controversies surrounding the fair. Gwendy Hastings was picked to fill Strout’s seat.

Ollis also said there was no progress on an agreement between the county and the fair. A meeting between county Auditor Suzanne Sinclair and fair officials to discuss the management contract has not been scheduled.

Ollis said the county was the reason for the delay, and that Sinclair wanted to meet with other county officials before she scheduled an appointment with fair officials.

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