Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently doesn’t want Costa Mesa resident David Padilla at this week’s closed session meeting on the Orange County Fairgrounds.
Padilla, 51, was abruptly pulled from the governor’s Fair Board of Directors on Friday after months of asking uncomfortable questions of Fair CEO Steve Beazley in public and private about the various ongoing negotiations to sell the 150-acre property in Costa Mesa for $96 million.
While the entire Fair Board recently questioned whether Schwarzenegger could even legally sell the property, Padilla seems to be the only one thrown to the fire. He sees it as retaliation and the crowning moment of a frustrating year in which he was often in opposition to the board’s majority on issues of transparency and governance.
“They must not want me there to ask embarrassing questions. It helps facilitate whatever deal they have going,” Padilla said. “I’m sure they aren’t comfortable with all the questions I’ve been asking about different people’s roles and involvement in this process.”
Another question Padilla has is “Why now?”
A glance at Thursday’s closed session agenda provides an interesting collection of potential reasons.
That day, the board is scheduled to discuss privately its public warnings to Schwarzenegger that the state doesn’t have clear title to the property. It’s also scheduled to discuss several lawsuits filed by former employees that allege fair officials haven’t been open with the state about the operation’s finances.
Officials are also scheduled to discuss rent issues between the OC Marketplace swap meet and the fair.
Padilla said he suspects that the Fair Board is attempting to cut a deal with Facilities Management West to continue administering the annual fair when the sale goes through.
FMW is the firm that is negotiating with the state to purchase the Fairgrounds property. In fact, this week begins a 30-day window for closing escrow on its bid to buy the Fairgrounds from the state.
Padilla said that after the Fair Board questioned whether the state could legally sell the property, FMW reached out to them to have them run the fair.
“I was asking questions about our deal,” Padilla said, adding that reactions to his questions led him to consider what the board does and does not know.
“We know Gary Hunt is representing FMW and is very close to the governor, as his campaign finance chair. At the October meeting, I asked unwelcome questions regarding our contacts and potential negotiations with FMW,” Padilla said.
Among the things the board does not know are details of the activities of the law firm of Nossaman LLP through former State Sen. Dick Ackerman as well as the activities of the county’s lobbyist, Platinum Advisors, which has close ties to county GOP Chairman Scott Baugh.
Padilla was the only board member to respond to public inquiries and records requests for information on the role of both individuals. Padilla said earlier this year that he was told Ackerman was only paid $19,000 for his work.
“I have recently determined, after months of inquiry, they were paid over $150,000 for services I have not been able to get answers for,” Padilla said. “It was my intention to continue to press for the details on both these issues.”
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