Fair Board Calls on DA to Re-Examine Privatization Bid

Chaos at the Fair

 A ride at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

The Orange County Fair Board is calling on District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to take a harder look at the failed effort three years ago to privatize the iconic fairground property in Costa Mesa.

Board members are also reiterating previous calls for the California attorney general to resume representing the fairground. In 2010, former attorney general and now Gov. Jerry Brown dismissed the Fair Board as a client because of conflict-of-interest issues that arose when fair board appointees tried to purchase the property through a hastily formed nonprofit.

Since that time, spending on private lawyers by the fair board has nearly tripled.

Ali Jahangiri — a last-minute Schwarzenegger appointee brought in to facilitate sale of the property — dissented from the panel’s collective call for the attorney general to return Thursday saying, “I like the fact we have independent representation.”

Thursday’s call for a DA probe, supported unanimously by both Republican and Democratic gubernatorial appointees to the fair, ends nearly three years of controversy over the privatization bid.

Efforts by activists, as well as reporting by Voice of OC, showed Republican appointees used government resources and manipulated contracts in their privatization effort that began in 2009 and ran through the last moments of the Schwarzenegger administration.

Last month, the Fair Board accepted a report of the six-month investigation by the Fair Sale Review Committee that showed how Republican appointees used questionable methods to enable the quick hiring of former state Senator Dick Ackerman and county lobbyists, Platinum Advisors, to push for privatization of the public property in Sacramento.

Ackerman and the lobbyists were hired in the summer of 2009 through a process by which CEO Steve Beazley secretly amended the scope of existing parking lot resurfacing contracts held by LSA & Associates to include lobbying. More than $150,000 in public fair funds was spent on the project.

“There’s a certain amount of social responsibility to make sure the money is accounted for,” said Gerardo Mouet, a Santa Ana city official appointed by Brown to the panel this year.

The majority of fair board members avoided conducting their own forensic audit of all the transactions in 2009, noting that they must concentrate on the annual fair that opens next summer. They asked Rackauckas to take conduct such n audit and flesh out the machinations behind the fair sale process.

Fair Board member Nick Berardino told the public that the board through the subcommittee has found everything that it can given its lack of subpoena power.

The subcommittee chairman, former Los Alamitos Police Chief Mike McCrary, said that kind of law enforcement agency approach is needed given what he described as an elaborate “money laundering” scheme by Republican appointees in 2009.

Fair activists said they have little faith that Rackauckas will thoroughly investigate fellow Republicans because he cleared the panel in a sloppy report back in 2010, which was quickly discredited.

Berardino didn't disagree with the lack of faith from activists on Thursday, saying this DA ran a solid shop but “when it comes to political mischief, not so much.”

Meanwhile, Ackerman is in line as a frontrunner to be appointed by county supervisors as the next county clerk-recorder, taking over for Tom Daly, who won election to the Assembly last year.

The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has been looking into the Ackerman billings for years but has yet to issue any findings. Last year, members of the DA’s new public integrity unit said they had reopened their examination of the attempted sale.

Berardino, acknowledging the activists’ ire Thursday when they heard that the matter would be referred to the DA,  said the situation underscores the fact that elections, especially at the local level, really do matter.

“There isn’t anything more to do” other than “look for a new DA,” Berardino said.

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