Apr 16, 2015

Three fair board members resign; director let go

The Park County Fair recently got a new leader and now, it’s getting a mostly brand-new board, too.

Feeling unwanted by the county commissioners who’d appointed them, three of the fair board’s five members — Chairman Mike Demoney of Powell, Vice Chairman Linda Nielsen of Powell and Treasurer Robby Newkirk of Meeteetse — abruptly resigned at Tuesday night's regular meeting.

“Due to the reorganization of the Park County Fair by the Park County commissioners, we felt that our opinions were not wanted or appreciated,” Demoney said in a statement on behalf of the three. “We are proud that we were able to serve the Park County community and the fair.”

Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston visits with remaining fair board members Kim Barhaug and Steve Martin Tuesday night. “We’ve got these two and we'll get them some reinforcements,” Livingston said.
The resignations follow the Park County Commission’s February decision to eliminate the position of Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz (who had reported to the fair board) and replace her with a Park County Events Coordinator who answers to the commission. Commissioners said they believed it was the best way to resolve long-running conflict over management of the grounds and that a new, bigger position — recently filled by Echo Renner — was needed to handle county events beyond the fair.

Commissioners have insisted that the board’s fundamental role will remain the same, but fair board members have had many questions about how the new set up will work with all staff ultimately answering to the commission.

Lohrenz’s position had been funded through the end of June, and commissioners had hoped she would work with Renner on a transition.

However, in the board’s last act, fair board members unanimously voted to let Lohrenz go Tuesday evening.

After the vote, Demoney, Nielsen and Newkirk resigned and walked out of the building, leaving the board without enough members to hold an official meeting or make any decisions.

“Due to the reorganization of the Park County Fair by the Park County commissioners, we felt that our opinions were not wanted or appreciated,” Demoney said of the resignations. 

Several members of the Powell High School Alumni Association were left in the lurch, as they’d hoped to speak to the board about plans for their upcoming 100th all-class reunion weekend. Much of the June 26-27 festivities are scheduled to be held at the fairgrounds.

“I don’t know what you guys are going to do,” said Pat Graham, a leader of the alumni group. “I don’t know what the county commissioners are going to do. (I think) they all ought to be fired, myself.”

He wondered if the PHS graduates would have to find another venue.

Acting Commission Chairman Lee Livingston, Commissioner Tim French and the two remaining fair board members, Steve Martin and Kim Barhaug of Powell, assured Graham the event could proceed as planned. They encouraged the PHS group to work with Renner, who started last week.

“It’s going to be business as usual as far as the fair and the fairgrounds,” Livingston said.

He said the commission will look to refill the fair board as soon as it legally can and said he knows of people with a standing interest in joining the volunteer board.

The commission scheduled a special meeting for this (Thursday) afternoon to discuss how they’ll go about advertising for and filling the open positions.


“It’s going to be business as usual as far as the fair and the fairgrounds,” Livingston said.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Martin said he had no worries about the 2015 fair, set for July 21-25.

“There’s enough people around that have been involved that some of them will come forward,” he predicted.

Martin also said there’s plenty of time — the fair’s a little over three months away — to get things together.

In 2011, then-Fair Manager Steve Scott resigned about six weeks before that year’s fair, citing disagreement with the board. Lohrenz and others helped step up to fill the gap then.

In a Tuesday letter to Lohrenz signed by all five board members, the board cited the commissioners’ “operational reorganization” and the pending elimination of her job as reasons for immediately letting her go.

The board suggested Lohrenz should be free of any responsibility for how the 2015 fair plays out.

“Any issues that should arise, past or present, are not a result of you or any action taken by you,” they wrote to Lohrenz. “You are free from any blame or tarnishing that may be waged against you due to any lack of knowledge or understanding on any part of the new operation.”

“You are free from any blame or tarnishing that may be waged against you due to any lack of knowledge or understanding on any part of the new operation,” the board wrote in a letter to Lohrenz.

The board said it appreciated Lohrenz’s unwavering support of the fair and many uncompensated hours.

“You have performed your duties to our satisfaction and we applaud your determination to overcome obstacles and continuous adversities in order to do so,” the board wrote, wishing her the best.

After the board members said goodbye to Lohrenz and she exited the room, Demoney announced he, Nielsen and Newkirk wished to resign.

Asked about the overall situation with the fair after the meeting, Livingston said he believes things are generally “headed in a good direction.”

“Echo (Renner) is — in just the little bit of time we’ve had Echo on board — she's on the ball,” he said. “We were hoping, with this length of time, of being able to have Jen (Lohrenz) kind of help with the transition, but, you know, it wasn’t in our hands.”

Livingston added that the fair will go on.

“It’s a community thing, and we’ll get the community behind it,” he said.

If people have questions about the fair, they can contact the fair office at 754-5421. Renner said those with questions about events also may contact her directly at 307-899-1694.

Renner said existing contracts will be honored, and she’s willing to visit with anyone who has questions or concerns.

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