Gov. Jerry Brown continued to remake the leadership of Orange County’s fairgrounds Tuesday, announcing two new Fair Board members, one a Republican businessman and another a Democratic lawyer.
Brown appointed Ashleigh Aitken, a local attorney who represented Orange County activists and elected officials in a 2010 lawsuit against the Schwarzenegger administration’s efforts to sell the 150-acre fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
Also joining the board is Stan Tkaczyk, 66, a retired top executive from Huntington Beach-based Rainbow Disposal. He said he’s approaching the fairgrounds with an eye toward improving operations, profitability and access.
Aitken — whose father, Wylie Aitken, is a Voice of OC board member and was cocounsel on the lawsuits against the state — said she hopes to usher in a new chapter for the board.
“I don’t know if it’s my training as a lawyer or being the mother of toddlers, but I really want to broker unity,” Aitken said. “We have an opportunity to turn the page.”
She is referring to a failed attempt by the Republican-dominated board to privatize the fairgrounds. That effort, which began in 2009, triggered a 50,000-signature petition drive, lawsuits and accusations of illegal lobbying.
Like other recent Brown appointees Nick Berardino and Gerardo Mouet, both Aitken and Tkaczyk have expressed an interest in public ownership and improving operations and profitability.
Aitken, 36, whose family boards horse at the fairgrounds stables, sees herself as an advocate for horses and agriculture, “a voice that hasn’t been in the forefront of the fair board.”
She’s eager to provide a voice for many interests that haven’t been heard often at the fairgrounds. She wants to promote more multifaceted educational programs for children.
Tkaczyk, meanwhile, says he plans to take his motor home to the fairgrounds and spend some time on the property.
“I’m going in to learn,” said Tkaczyk, who also serves as a Voice of OC board member. “The way you learn is to be there on the property. I’ve done that with other businesses. I like to see people show up and go home. … I want to see what’s going on.”
Tkaczyk added that he has a close bond with the property. “It’s always been something special in my life. I sold used furniture there when I grew up. … I’ve been to the gun show, I’m a season ticket holder to the fight club, the motorcycle races, the swap meet. … It’s not just a fair, it’s an event center.”
Aitken and Tkaczyk will be joining a board that is still dealing with issues related to the privatization effort.
Theresa Sears, a leading activist with the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, said that Steve Beazley, CEO of the OC Fair & Event Center, has led activists on a “wild goose chase” with changing arguments over key documents regarding the effort to sell the property.
The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission continues to investigate the secret hiring of former state Sen. Dick Ackerman in the summer of 2009. Ackerman’s law firm, Platinum Advisers, were paid more than $150,000, which the activists say was at least partly for illegal lobbying.
Beazley announced his resignation last month, citing plans to retire sometime later this year.
Both Aitken and Tkaczyk said they were concerned to hear that the fairgrounds is not complying with public records requests regarding the expenditures.
“If there are public records requests that are not being addressed, then I would really want us to follow all our legal obligations as a board and a state agency,” said Aitken, a former federal prosecutor.
Tkaczyk was also critical of how the records requests have been handled.
“I think that’s wrong,” he said. “We all have to be accountable for our actions. And you can’t just say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ if you were part of it.”
— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.
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