I’ve spoken to many folks in the wake of Sally Symons abrupt dismissal last month as Tri-County Fairgrounds CEO andf I’m not still not sure I get it. Whispers of impropriety are not good enough, and it’s character assassination of the worst kind.
If the Tri-County Fair Board has evidence of impropriety, produce it. Otherwise, shut up.
The big issue with regard to the Tri-County Fair in particular and Fairs in general is that the State pulled funding for Fairs starting in 2013 – not coincidentally at the same time that longtime Fair CEO Jim Tatum abandoned the job.
Tatum’s not dumb. He could see the writing on the wall.
Pull $150,000 to $165,000 out of an approx. $750,000 budget and yeah, you’re going to have issues.
Clearly, Sally Symons was doomed to play the scapegoat, no matter what she did. Having a mole within the organization who fomented doubt and had the willing ear of the Board simply expedited matters.
How convenient. Don’t want a boss? Don’t want to be supervised? Just tattle to the Board and get her fired.
Consider this. In Tatum’s last year, buoyed by State funding, the Fairgrounds had a declared “administration” expense of $244,982. By 2014, that number had been trimmed to $185,785 and Symons told The Sheet she was paid approximately $55,000/year for a contract job with no benefits (and expected to pull Tatum-type hours. Tatum was a fairly notorious workaholic during his tenure).
Yes, the organization’s net operating loss after depreciation has increased over the past few years (It was -$66,000 in Tatum’s last year 2012 and -$209,131 in 2014. However, there have been some bright spots.
Operating revenues were approx. $729,000 in Tatum’s last year and $784,000 in 2014. Fair admission revenue in 2015 was up 17% over Tatum’s last year and up 26% over last year. This despite the fact that the Mono County Office of Ed. pulled out of its Scholar Day, which normally generated attendance of 300 kids plus family.
It appears one of the major disagreements between Symons and her Board was over concerts.
Board member Paul Dostie told The Sheet that two concerts this year lost approximately $30,000 combined.
Symons acknowledged that concerts are always a gamble but that when the Fair tried to switch it up with a Monster Truck Pull the year before, that was a bust, too.
“How we fill Thursdays has always been a question mark,” she said. “As for the concert,” she said, “I can’t sign any contract for more than $5,000. You need Board approval for that.” Translation: If the Board approved it, the Board can’t simply deny all responsibility.
On a larger level, Symons asks rhetorically “How do run a state agency with state rules without state funds?”
Frankly, it appears Symons was more dismissed over a personality conflict with the Board (and the Board’s need to blame someone for a structural budget issue that will not be solved anytime soon) rather than over anything Symons actually did.
Tatum’s suggestion that the Board simply eliminate the CEO position and operate with current staff sounds nice, but it’s hard to defend the notion that an entity which has previously suffered an embezzlement scandal be left to its own devices without designated leadership. Though, I suppose, the embezzlement occurred (bridging two regimes) when there was designated leadership, so maybe the risk exists no matter the management structure.
Does a Board that already has several vacancies (including two resignations following the Symons ouster) have the will to really roll up its sleeves and fill the void here? I doubt it. To wit: During Symons 18 months on the job, 8 out of 18 Board meetings were canceled due to lack of a quorum.
All in all, I still need a better reason/explanation as to why Symons is gone, and I call on the Board to provide it.
Reached Mammoth Councilman John Wentworth on deadline to get his comments which should have otherwise appeared in the “Council turns the page” story.
Wentworth said he is most interested in the strategic alignment of the Town and its NGO’s (MLT, MLR, et. al.) to get them working together and more efficiently.
He is also excited about and supportive of the proposed community center/multi-use facility project to be located at Mammoth Creek Park.