Orange County Fair CEO Resigns

Chaos at the Fair
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Days before the Orange County Fair Board was scheduled to debate his future in closed session, OC Fair and Event Center CEO Jerome Hoban resigned Monday and announced that he is taking over as head of the fairground in Alameda County.

“After nearly twenty one years with the OC Fair, Lisa and I have decided to pursue a new adventure for our family,” Hoban wrote in an email sent late Monday. “I will be leaving the Fair at the beginning of May to serve as the CEO of the Alameda County Fair in Northern California. This decision was a difficult one as my roots are deep in Orange County and the friendships and memories are so valued.”

Hoban did not respond to a call for comment. Fairground officials confirmed Hoban’s resignation late Monday but said there was no official announcement ready yet.

Hoban leaves his helm weeks after hand-delivering a fairground committee report to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas that calls for an investigation into his own role, among other things, in the failed 2009 privatization effort of the fairground led by a block of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appointees to the Fair Board.

Hoban was appointed CEO after former CEO Steve Beazley, who also was a central player in the failed privatization bid, abruptly resigned last year.

At issue since the scheme to privatize the fairground imploded is how more than $150,000 in public funds for lobbying firms and lawyers were laundered through seemingly unconnected parking lot contracts for the fairground equestrian center.

Beazley allegedly called representatives with the fairground land use planning firm, LSA Associates, and had them pay former state Sen. Dick Ackerman through the parking lot contract for lobbying. The county’s own lobbying firm, Platinum Advisors, was also hired to lobby for the sale of the fairgrounds.

Hoban served as the fairground staff representative to the California Construction Authority, the joint powers authority that authorized the payments to Ackerman and Platinum Advisors.

Ackerman was considered a finalist for appointment as county clerk-recorder and told the Board of Supervisors that the DA had cleared him after an investigation in 2010. Ackerman has never publicly commented on the investigation.

A Voice of OC investigation into the issue revealed that DA investigators overlooked key evidence, such as Ackerman’s own legal billing records.

That investigation was reopened last year. Earlier this year, fairground officials delivered documents collected by a Fair Sale Review Committee and reiterated their calls for a state probe into the California Construction Authority and the failed privatization effort.

“Though we wish him well, Jerome going to work at another fair doesn’t change the past or ease the many concerns we have raised about his involvement in the failed fairgrounds sale effort. That all is still under investigation,” wrote Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society leader Theresa Sears, who also led the inquiry into the fairground sale.

The society “is looking forward to a positive change in management at the Orange County fair. This is definitely a step in a better direction.”

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

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