What’s Happening with the Fair CEO Turned Consultant

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Friday, August 12, 2010 | It’s official. Becky Bailey-Findley can’t have it both ways.

Since June, the city of Costa Mesa has paid Bailey-Findley to be its main consultant while it attempts to broker a deal with the state for the fairgrounds. And in recent months it seems she has also worked with Facilities Management West, the company trying to buy the fairgrounds, and talked about a future job with the company.

That is a good ole fashioned conflict of interest, and, in the words of Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder, means that the city and Bailey-Findley will have to “conclude our business relationship.”

But like so many other things regarding the attempted sale of the fairgrounds, trying to figure out all the relationships — and where they stand — is a confusing and messy process.

Bailey-Findley was a longtime CEO at the fairgrounds. In fact, she presided over the fair board free-ticket fiasco uncovered by the Orange County Register in 2009.

After leaving her job as Fairgrounds CEO, she was brought on to help city leaders understand what kind of property and franchise they were acquiring. In essence, she was their eyes and ears on the ground in terms of their due diligence investigation.

Her standing and expertise on the issue apparently immediately caught the eye of FMW honchos who have been fighting accusations that the company is nothing more than a shell created solely to purchase the fair. The word in recent months has been that Bailey-Findley was FMW’s new CEO.

But again, this is the fairgrounds deal, so everything is not exactly as it seems.

The recent confusion regarding Bailey-Findley’s status began at Tuesday’s Costa Mesa City Council meeting when Councilwoman Katrina Foley stated as fact that Bailey-Findley was no longer working for the city.

And though that statement was essentially true, the situation is not as matter of fact as Foley stated it. But Foley was the first Costa Mesa official to say anything publicly about Bailey-Findley’s situation. And she caught the rest of her colleagues by surprise because no one else that night said a word.

City Manager Allan Roeder hustled out a press statement Wednesday that confirmed Bailey-Findley’s departure. He later said that he should have clarified Foley’s comments right after she uttered them Tuesday.

Roeder essentially agreed with the take of FMW Spokesman Guy Lemmon in a Wednesday interview saying that Lemmon did in fact tell Roeder shortly after the June 22 vote by the City Council to move forward with negotiations on the fair sale that he was interested in hiring Bailey-Findley.

Asked why he would allow the city’s main consultant to talk to its main prospective tenant about the prospects of a future job – while conducting due diligence and ground lease negotiations – Roeder replied, “I can’t preclude that conversation.”

Roeder, however, said he warned Bailey-Findley, “if you’re going to pursue that, we’ll have to conclude our business relationship.”

The discussion didn’t intensify beyond that until July, Roeder said, when Bailey-Findley told him it was likely she’d take the FMW job. At that point, he said the plan was to conclude business when she got back from a three-week vacation in Europe to attend her son’s wedding.

But then FMW put out a press statement announcing Bailey-Findley as their interim CEO last month without notice to the city, Roeder said.

“I was surprised to see the press announcement,” he said.

It gets even more surprising.

On Tuesday night, after Foley’s comments that Bailey-Findley no longer represented the city, Lemmon said in an interview about her status with FMW that, “she doesn’t work for us.”

“She is under contract with the city only,” Lemmon said. And while her due diligence work has involved FMW, she’s still a city consultant, he said. Lemmon said he was surprised over Foley’s comments.

That night, Lemmon was less clear about whether Bailey-Findley would even be hired, “at some point in the future.”

He said there was no contract with Bailey-Findley over employment, “only verbal dialogue.”

Lemmon even left the impression that it wasn’t 100 percent sure she’d even get the CEO job because the two sides just had informal talks.

Either way, the city is not interested in having her be their consultant anymore.

Now the plan is to have her turn over documents and hire an outside firm to review all her work. Yet Roeder doesn’t think it’s tainted any of the work she has done for the city.

“From my standpoint, she’s been really valuable to us in terms of our effort. There aren’t a lot of people out there that are intimately knowledgeable in that industry and specifically to this site,” he said.

Asked whether FMW pulled a good chess move in grabbing the most knowledgeable person on the site in the midst of negotiations, Roeder replied:

“Yeah, it is a shrewd move.”

Roeder said now the city will move to hire it’s own onsite consultant in addition to the third party review. The money for those hires will come out of the $250,000 deposit that FMW put on the table when agreed to negotiate the deal.

It’s not clear where the money to pay Bailey-Findley her $100 hourly consulting fee is coming from, although that authorization came ahead of the FMW deposit and negotiation. It’s also not clear how much Bailey-Findley has been paid to date.

Facilities Management West spokesman Guy Lemmon’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. We regret the error

Please contact Norberto Santana, Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanatna. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.


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