We thought they’d packed up all the roller coasters at the conclusion of the Tri-County Fair, but Fair politics are a roller coaster unto itself.
On the eve of this year’s Fair, the firing of longtime Fairgrounds Maintenance Manager Ben Barlow created dissension and turmoil.
Longtime volunteers such as Donna Bird (28 years) quit in protest of Barlow’s dismissal.
Michelle Denault, who has volunteered for the past 26 years, says she will not come back next year if the current Fairgrounds Administration is still in place.
In addition, this year’s horse show was reduced to two days (from its typical four) as many who normally participate decided to skip the Fair in protest.
Horse Show Manager Roxanne Tallman said she normally receives 70 entries for the Horse Show. This year, she received 28.
The Sheet spoke to Barlow this week. He doesn’t know why he was fired. “They didn’t give me a reason,” he said.
Barlow’s assistant, Jason Schuler, had been let go two weeks prior to Barlow.
Schuler said he was told he was fired because he and his boss Barlow were seen having a beer off-the-clock after work at the Fairgrounds.
Schuler said he had no previous disciplinary issues in his job, which he had held for four years.
He also said it was common practice among employees, including office personnel and CEO Suzie Wolfersberger, to have a drink after work.
Donna Bird corroborated Schuler’s story. “Historically, after we were done on Thursday night [of the Fair], we’d take off our badges and have a corn dog and a beer.”
“I liked my job, and felt like I contributed to the community,” added Schuler. Fair Board member Jaque Hickman had this to say of Barlow’s dismissal. “It was a personnel issue. Nobody wanted to see it happen. It was not malicious.”
Community member Debbie Barbieri disagrees. She thought the firing was political, which is why the community is upset. “I think it’s pretty shady, pretty shi*%y,” she said, adding, “Ben is the most honest, hardest-working person around. He knows the fairgrounds inside and out. And he’s invested in this community up one side and down the other.” Barbieri said Barlow has instructed 4-H, done missionary work, and would routinely use his own equipment down at the Fairgrounds and not charge the fairgrounds for its use. “He lived down there,” she said.
“The fairgrounds is friends, family and community – not this type of politics,” she concluded.