Feb 19, 2015

Events coordinator to replace fair director; fair board members unhappy

The director of the Park County Fair could be out of a job by July, as county commissioners intend to eliminate her position to a create a new, bigger one.

Commissioners said Tuesday they want to replace the fair director with a proposed Park County events coordinator. The coordinator would oversee not only the fairgrounds, but all the large events held on county property throughout the year — such as gatherings on the grounds of the Park County Complex in Cody. In another change, the events coordinator ultimately would answer to commissioners instead of the Park County Fair Board, whose five volunteer members have historically been in charge of fair staff.

Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said in an interview that the fair board’s role in putting on the annual fair will remain the same.

“They’re still going to be charged with the production of the fair, they’ll just be coordinating it with an events coordinator instead of a fair manager,” Tilden said. He added later that, “Really, I think everybody’s blowing this whole thing out of proportion here because ... all we’re doing is creating a new job.”

But that’s not how some members of the fair board see the commission’s action.

“I think it’s really messed up that they’re doing that, because they put the fair board in place to manage the fair and the fairgrounds,” said Fair Board Chairman Mike Demoney in a Tuesday interview, saying it feels as though commissioners are taking over the fair.

Board members also expressed concern about losing Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz.

“I just want to know why we’re cutting someone (loose) that has done a tremendous job in the past few years ... and putting in someone else that doesn't necessarily have the experience or the training,” Fair Board Vice Chairman Linda Nielsen told commissioners on Tuesday. “We feel like our legs were kind of cut out from underneath of us on this, a little bit.”

Responded Commissioner Bucky Hall, “I’ve felt for a long time that this particular position — especially with the new building going up over there and all the events that are happening around the county, not just at the fairgrounds — that we needed to expand that position.

“And quite frankly,” Hall added, “The last two or three years, the communication between this board, the fair board and the director has been incredibly substandard.

“It’s not all our fault, but .... the only way I personally feel we can get a handle on it is (to) have that person be a department” head that answers to commissioners, he said.

County buildings and grounds staffers, who are overseen by commissioners, received greater control of the fair's upkeep after a series of electrical problems were discovered in 2010 — leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars of electrical improvements — and the roof of the large exhibit hall was found to be in danger of collapsing later that year.

“The board was not doing their job,” Tilden said. “They just weren’t.”

The subsequent demolition of that large exhibit hall and some nearby buildings created the need for the new $3.1 million multi-use facility now under construction.

“Quite frankly, the last two or three years, the communication between this board, the fair board and the director has been incredibly substandard,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall.

In September 2011, the fair board OK’d having buildings and grounds staff take over facility and grounds management, groundskeeping and custodial responsibilities, but conflict over who those staffers answer to — and what duties they should have — has persisted.

“When you have basically one person in charge, it should smooth everything out,” Tilden said of switching to an events coordinator.

Fair board members, however, questioned whether having an employee who reports to commissioners but works with the fair board will just continue the conflict. Further, board members believe commissioners may be underestimating the amount of work the fair director already has by seeking to enlarge the job.

Commissioners said they may end up having to hire more personnel to help out the events coordinator and they encouraged input from the fair board on what the current job entails.
Park County Fair director Jennifer Lohrenz gestures as she speak to representatives of the Wyoming Business Council (at left) while commissioners Joe Tilden (center) and Loren Grosskopf (at right) listen in this March 2014 file photo.

As noted Tuesday, communication between the fair and commission has been strained in recent years. For example, commissioners' have made no secret of their frustration with the board’s lack of progress on a $500,000 fundraising goal.

“The way it's always operated, if they had a question, all they had to do is call,” Demoney said of the Hall’s criticism on the communications. He faulted Commissioner Tim French, the commission’s liaison to the fair board, for missing numerous board meetings last year.

“You want communications? Then come to the meeting,” Demoney said.

French, however, said in a Wednesday interview that he stopped going to meetings because the board was “hostile” to him and conducted much of their meetings in closed-door, executive sessions.

“To this day, if they ever have a question, comment, anything they never call me,” French said, adding that some people on the fair board “are not good board members.”

French did attend last week’s board meeting, which followed commissioners’ announcement that they planned to create an events coordinator. However, French didn’t mention the commission’s pending plans for the fair staff during the public portion of the meeting, nor did fair board members ask about the plans.

“We feel like our legs were kind of cut out from underneath of us on this, a little bit,” said Fair Board Vice Chairman Linda Nielsen.

Lohrenz told the Tribune that, “no matter what the final outcome is, I sincerely hope that I am allowed to administer the 2015 fair in the very least,” saying a tremendous amount of work has gone into the event.

Demoney echoed that wish.

However, Tilden said he expects the fair director’s position to conclude at the end of June, with the events coordinator running the 2015 fair in July. He said he hopes Lohrenz will apply for the new job.

Commissioners plan to finalize a job description and salary range for the position at their March 3 meeting. Advertisements seeking applicants for the events coordinator position will begin running in local newspapers next week, advising them to check the county's website on March 4 for more information.


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