A meeting of the Kern County Fair Board of Directors ended in a shouting match when board members refused to answer questions posed by members of the public.
In the first public meeting since the Kern County District Attorney opened an investigation into alleged financial misconduct and misuse of state resources at the fair, the directors mostly acted as if it was business as usual.
That is until the meeting drew to a conclusion, and Chairwoman Blodgie Rodriguez tried to adjourn as several audience members shouted for more time to make comments.
The audience pointed out that the agenda said public comments could be made on individual agenda items during the meeting, a stipulation the board did not appear to respect.
“You have given us exactly what people have been complaining about,” audience member Liz Keogh said to the board shortly after the meeting had been adjourned. “You are demonstrating for all of us that you don’t care. It’s disgraceful. You don’t even follow your own rules.”
Most of the directors, along with CEO Mike Olcott, rapidly left the small meeting room at the fair office following the adjournment. Some retreated into Olcott’s office, where they closed the door.
Olcott had previously walked briskly past members of the media, denying requests for comment.
The meeting came at a delicate time for the fair. The DA’s Office initiated its investigation after a state audit that detailed financial and professional misconduct at an unnamed California fair was linked to Kern County.
Several current and former employees of the fair have told The Californian and other media outlets that the audit pertains to Kern County.
Fair employees, along with the board, have not answered questions for weeks about the allegations that the fair mismanaged funds, citing state whistleblower laws.
However, in an aside after the meeting, board member Lucas Espericueta appeared to connect Kern County to the audit.
“The audit didn’t do us any favors,” he said, before exhibiting a knowledge of the audit. He added that the financial misconduct alleged in the audit pertained to less than 1 percent of fair finances, in an apparent reference to the Kern County Fair.
He said shortly afterward that due to the state’s whistleblower rules, he could not comment on fair activity, either generally or as it related to the audit, a line of reasoning followed by the rest of the board.
Both the California State Auditor and the Department of Food and Agriculture – which oversees state fairs - have said they will not reveal the fair in question, citing the whistleblower law.
The audit revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars of credit card purchases without receipts or prepared purchase orders, along with excessive and illegal out-of-state travel and more than $3,000 in wasteful tips and inappropriate alcohol purchases.
In addition, the audit said that employees at the fair in question had worked side jobs while being paid by fair funds. The audit said the employees did so with the direct knowledge of their supervisor on multiple occasions, a claim that has been reiterated by current and former employees.
Around 20 people attended Monday’s meeting, and several spoke on issues unrelated to the audit.
Before tempers flared at the end of the meeting, Rodriguez seemed to congratulate the board on making it through the tumult.
“I would like to thank each of you guys for everything that you guys have done this last fair,” she said to the board. “It was a rough one, and we, as united as a team, we (got) through it.”