Several members of the Montezuma County Fair Board have resigned following the approval of an agreement designed to mend fences between them and county 4-H leaders.
The Montezuma County Fair Board and the Colorado State University Extension have struggled in the past year with determining how to apply rules to the county fair, and how to decide which office controls which part of the event.
On Jan. 8, the county board of commissioners voted to approve a memorandum of understanding, signed by members of both offices, which they said would define their roles and help them work together more effectively.
But the week the memo was approved, seven of the board’s nine regular members resigned, leaving several open seats that the county hopes to fill by the end of January.
The final draft of the MOU puts the fair board in charge of appointing open class judges, among other things. The CSU Extension office’s responsibilities include securing judges for all 4-H contests and overseeing all 4-H related events. The document also emphasizes both offices’ responsibility to avoid conflicts of interest, requiring all members to disclose such conflicts and prohibiting them from voting on any issues in which there is a conflict.
Before the Jan. 8 meeting, some members of the fair board and the extension office said they believed the MOU would help end the friction between their offices. CSU Extension agent Tom Hooten said it was similar to an idea he proposed to the fair board in February 2017. “I think it’s a good document,” he said. “It’s just a shame that it took so long, and that it took a process like this to get it done.”
In the week before the commissioners’ meeting, fair board member T.W. Gilliland said he hoped the MOU would “end the finger-pointing” between the two offices.
“It should make everything run a lot smoother,” he said.
The commissioners expressed a similar hope after approving the agreement on Monday, Jan. 8.
“I want to thank everybody that was involved in putting this together,” Commissioner James Lambert said at the meeting. “The way I look at it, it looks like a fair distribution of responsibilities.”
Board president Don Janz and longtime member Randy McKnight turned in letters of resignation before the Jan. 8 meeting. Erin Gordanier and Tamara Hamilton had submitted letters of interest for the positions, and commissioners voted unanimously to appoint them as replacements on the board. But two days later, Hamilton declined the appointment.
Several fair board members said they resigned in part because of their frustration with the commissioners and the extension office advisory committee, which the commissioners formally established in November.
Marc Garlinghouse, the board’s former secretary, raised similar concerns but said he left the board primarily to pursue a full-time position as an emergency services director in Dove Creek. The three remaining board members – Gordanier, T.W. Gilliland and Allen Higgins – held an unofficial meeting on Monday to assure the public they were moving forward with plans for this year’s fair. They asked for volunteers, especially those with an interest in open class activities, to join the board, and said they hoped to have a quorum by their next meeting on Jan. 29. The deadline to submit letters of intent to the board of commissioners is Jan. 26.
Commissioner Larry Don Suckla said he felt some of the fair board’s meetings have been disorganized in the past, but he credited the group with the county fair’s growth over the past few years. Former vice president Brandee Simmons estimated that more than 13,000 people attended the fair in 2017.
“Mostly, I think they’ve done a fantastic job,” Suckla said of the fair board.
He held a special workshop before the fair board’s meeting on Monday to advise them on following parliamentary procedure. He also recommended that they reduce the size of the board and eliminate the previous two alternate positions, saying he believed a smaller board would be more efficient.
The fair board members struck an optimistic tone at the meeting. Higgins told the large audience of parents, 4-H leaders and other interested citizens that they still planned to run a successful fair in 2018. He and the other board members said they wanted to move forward instead of focusing on past conflicts.
“We’re all starting out with kind of a blank sheet of paper,” Higgins said. “There’s going to be a lot of people that need to step up and help out.”
Several people in the audience expressed interest in the volunteer positions and stayed after the meeting to talk with board members. Suckla said county commissioners would vote on potential appointees at their Jan. 29 meeting, allowing the fair board to elect those appointees at its meeting later that day. Several items of business for the county fair, such as the schedule and some rule book changes, are on hold until the board has enough members to vote on them.
CSU Extension advisory committee member Jan Sennhenn said the group plans to meet on Jan. 23 to discuss the extension’s responsibilities in organizing the fair.