An increasingly popular Green Fair featuring the participation of numerous county vendors that offer environmentally friendly products has been abruptly canceled amidst an internal audit investigation into how the event was organized.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously terminated the event earlier this month.
While county executives suggested the Green Fair be outsourced, labor leaders decried the move and went public with the existence of the internal audit at a supervisors’ meeting.
“Plainly, the county’s failure to disclose the ongoing audit and ship the fair to an outside vendor looks like a cover-up,” said Jennifer Muir, an assistant general manager at the Orange County Employees Association.
Official correspondence to the board from OCEA, which Muir read into the public record, went on to state, “It appears that the county’s solution to addressing the problems identified at the OC Green Fair is to export them elsewhere and hope nobody finds out.”
Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson reacted angrily to Muir’s accusation.
“As a result of the inquiry it’s been determined that the county should not go forward with this. So take solace in the fact that the complaint didn’t result in a punt, it resulted in swift action. And you’re seeing exactly that. We’re not doing the Green Fair if this passes,” Nelson said to Muir.
While Nelson didn’t disclose any particulars of the investigation, he said it wasn’t disclosed because it involved potential discipline of individuals that made it a personnel matter, which are largely off limits for public disclosure because of labor laws.
Yet Nelson did give some indication of what was being investigated.
“This program is being run with county personnel to the tune of hundreds of thousands [of dollars] that was never disclosed on the original ASRs,” Nelson said.
OCEA's correspondence, meanwhile, stated there may be other items being investigated, including “how vendor contributions are spent and the potential misuse of Green Fair resources, such as raffle prizes and donated amusement park tickets.”
The event, according to official county documents, was intended to “raise awareness regarding environmental concerns and how consumers can reduce their impact on the earth by selecting sustainable, eco-friendly products and services, reducing energy consumption, conserving water and limiting their dependence on fossil fuels.”
Additionally, Green Fair promotional documents told vendors that “joining us will be procurement professionals from local cities and special districts with an expected attendance of over 3,000."
There were numerous vendors listed as associated with the event, including the online bid site called BidSync, Sempra Energy, ACS, Staples, Irvine BMW, CR&R Waste Management, Home Depot, Whole Foods Market, Verizon and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Organized by the county procurement department in 2009 and held three consecutive years, the event was aimed at emphasizing the county government’s commitment to principles of sustainability and raising public awareness about the importance of environmental stewardship.
Specifically, the event sought “to promote the purchase of eco-friendly products and services" by county agencies and departments.
Yet this month, county staff concluded the Green Fair should no longer be county administered because “since the initial event was held in 2010, interest has continued to grow substantially resulting in several major corporate sponsors and attendance of over 3,500.
"The growing interest in this event that has resulted in additional resource needs that cannot be sustained without impacting the core business functions of the Procurement Office. The County Executive Office recommends a suspension of the FY2012-13 event planning in order to pursue opportunities to transition the event administration and promotion to local private sector trade organizations.”