Members of the board in charge of the Kern County Fair met for the first time since a KGET investigation last month brought light to a state audit that alleged fair officials misused hundreds of thousands of state-funded resources and taxpayer dollars.
The meeting’s agenda did not include the audit, but it was on top of mind for members of the public who showed up.
“I’m here because it seems like we’ve run into problems having to do with the fair,” said Phil Rudnick, who said he felt a deep connection with the fair, and offered his assistance in helping the board get it back on its feet.
“We’re talking about taxpayer dollars here,” said Mary Helen Barro. “What I read — if true — is outrageous and unacceptable, and anybody responsible must resign immediately.”
As the comments were made during the “public comment” portion of the meeting, board members were not required to directly respond.
KGET’s Eytan Wallace pressed the fair officials with questions for which 17 News has tried to get answers for the last month.
“Does the public deserve to know what happened and what lead up to the misuse of more than $300,000 of taxpayer funds?” Wallace asked the members.
After a brief pause, Chairwoman Blodgie Rodriguez responded, “This is public comment. I’m sorry.”
However, board finance chair Lucas Espericueta, addressed some of the allegations. He was the sole board member to discuss the alleged misuse of state funds and resources.
“We don’t get taxpayer money,” he said. “There are grants provided for development projects. But we are operated like a business. Our revenue, tickets from sales, parking… We don’t receive or abuse any taxpayer money because it’s the money we generate at the fair.”
Towards the end of the meeting, emotions ran high as Blodgie Rodriguez sought to adjourn while a few wanted to address individual agenda items.
“You have given us exactly what people have been complaining about,” said Liz Keogh. “You are demonstrating you don’t care.”
“The chair cut everybody off. I’m very outraged,” Keogh later stated in an interview with KGET. “These people demonstrated to my satisfaction that there is a cover up going up here beyong imagination,” she continued.
Former Kern County Fair employee Christopher Medillin agreed.
“It seemed like they wanted to talk about any agenda the public wanted answered,” he said.
Echoing a similar message, Barro called for transparency.
“Anything that was done that is not correct, lawful, with honesty, the money has to be collected, replaced, and who ever is responsible, has to resign or be terminated as soon as possible if not immediately.”
*KGET attempted to get comment from Fair CEO Michael Olcott after the meeting, but he and some of the other board members walked out of the room in a quick manner.
Meanwhile, the District Attorney’s investigation into the Kern County Fair’s alleged misuse of funds remains ongoing.