Kern County Fair Board members meet, face questions about audit alleging misuse of state funds

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Kern County Fair CEO Mike Olcott and Kern Fair board members gathered Monday night for their monthly board meeting — the second such meeting since 17 News first broke the story about a state audit alleging senior fair officials misused hundreds of thousands of state dollars and resources.

Monday night’s meeting was not as confrontational as last month’s October’s meeting, but those in attendance demanded transparency.

Board members have never publicly commented on the audit, citing legal reasons. Monday night’s meeting was no exception.

“Due to whistle blower law, we are unable to disclose the name of the fair that was subject to the fair auditor’s report,” said board Chairwoman Blodgie Rodriguez. However, those in attendance still voiced their concerns.

“I’m so disappointed,” said Mary Helen Barro as she spoke to the governor-appointed body. “The name of our county and the veracity of our Kern County Fair is extremely important to our community, and I can’t begin to tell you how disjointed I am,” she continued.

“If it’s this fair, have you done anything about it?” asked Phil Rudnick.

“You’re going to have to talk to the [California] Department of Food and Agriculture,” Olcott answered with a chuckle.

Board Vice Chairman Ned Dunphy expanded upon why the board has not commented on the audit.

“It’s unfortunately a legal response, and if you have issues with that, and I understand them, and I understand the frustration with it, [but] it’s not to be addressed here,” Dunphy, an attorney, said. “We are not able to address that issue. It has to be addressed by either the auditor which has issued this order, or the dept. Of food and Agriculture. We can’t help you; As much as we’d like to help you, we cannot.”

At one point, the board asked the public to leave so board members could meet in closed session. It remains unclear what was discussed, however Rodriguez said the meeting included a phone call to officials in Sacramento.

Meanwhile, attendees said they will remain steadfast until action is taken.

“Local people need to know, are they addressing the issues that were addressed in the audit,” said Barro. “We need to know how much money was taken, when it was taken, how much was spent without receipts…Anybody who was involved should offer their resignation.”

Board member and well-known attorney David Torres was granted an excused absence from Monday’s meeting.

At last month’s meeting, attendees were not allowed to offer public comment on individual agenda items. This time, Chairwoman Rodriguez acknowledged that may have been a violation of the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. Thus, attendees at Monday’s meeting were allowed to comment on agenda items.

The next meeting is set for Jan. 13, 2020.

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