The Kern County District Attorney's office has opened an investigation into the Kern County Fair following media reports last week that it is the fair at the center of a state audit that uncovered financial misconduct and inappropriate use of state resources to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Assistant district attorney Joseph Kinzel confirmed Monday that the office's public integrity unit is conducting the investigation.
The state auditor’s report, released in August, detailed widespread instances of violations of state law and workplace misconduct at an unnamed county fair between 2016 and 2018. Former employees of the Kern County Fair told numerous local media outlets last week, including The Californian, that the investigation pertains to Kern County.
Fair CEO Mike Olcott did not respond to requests for comment Monday. He and Blodgie Rodriguez, chairwoman of the fair board, released a statement Friday that said under state whistleblower law, "we are unable to disclose the name of the fair that was the subject of the State Auditor’s report last month” and referred all comment to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The statement echoes one made by the State Auditor’s Office, which said it could not reveal the name of the fair due to protections afforded in the state whistleblower law.
The fair no longer receives annual state funding but uses state equipment and resources and must comply with state rules. In 2011, then-Gov. Jerry Brown cut state funding for fairs from the budget. The Kern County Fair has since become self-supported by revenues from the annual 12-day fair and other events held at the fairgrounds throughout the year, according to Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The Kern County Fair did receive a $228,000 state grant in fiscal year 2016-17 for deferred maintenance, according to Lyle, of which $150,000 was used and the rest returned to the state.
It is not known what the current fair budget is but The Californian reported that it was $5 million in 2011. A guide on the CDFA website titled "2018 CEO Salary Ranges" said Fair CEOs make between $6,079 and $13,154 monthly (about $73,000 to $158,000 annually).
The state audit alleged the unnamed fair mishandled hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card purchases, allowed employees to work side gigs while on the clock and spent thousands on excessive and illegal out-of-state travel.
In one example, an employee would clock in at the beginning of the day, only to work the entire day at a side job, returning at the end of the day to clock out.
In its recommendations, the audit urged CDFA to take over the unnamed fair board's operations. But in a section containing responses from CDFA and the fair to the audit, it said CDFA declined to do so.
So far, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which oversees county fairs, hasn’t said when or if any punishment will be levied as a result of the investigation.
The report also contained recommendations for the unnamed fair's board of directors. They included:
* Discipline its CEO and other employees who engaged in inappropriate conduct
* Recoup money from the CEO and others for inappropriate purchases
* Recoup costs from the maintenance supervisor for using a state vehicle for commuting to work for several years
* Recoup all travel expenses from employees and board members who exceeded allowances
In the unnamed fair board's response, it did not report any planned disciplinary action against the CEO, the audit said. Instead, the board said it had cautioned the CEO to make training a priority and to reinforce among staff proper use of state equipment and reporting of time worked.
The fair wrapped up its annual 12-day run on Sunday.