Orange County Fair Board Directors have ousted their embattled CEO, Kathy Kramer, following recent controversy over her relationship with a private Christian college and news she’s leaving the county for a fair agency in Washington early next year.
The Board of Directors’ new chair, Sandra Cervantes, confirmed Kramer’s firing over the phone on Tuesday.
Kramer has not responded to Voice of OC requests for comment.
On Tuesday, Kramer sent a statement to the Daily Pilot alleging her termination was retaliation “for participating in an investigation into allegations of misconduct by two former board members.”
In her statement, Kramer alleged that “the unsuspected termination is motivated as a result of two previous board members being forced by the governor’s office … to resign from their appointment on the OC Fair Board in June of 2018 as a result of an investigation around allegations of bullying and harassment of staff where Ms. Kramer offered evidence on behalf of the victims.”
Two former board members, Nick Berardino and Stan Tkaczyk, resigned from the panel last summer.
Tkacyzk is a former board member for Voice of OC. His wife, former Daily Pilot columnist Barbara Venezia, currently serves on the Voice of OC board.
It’s unclear when the OC Fair Board of Directors voted to fire Kramer, though the last time the board met was on Thursday, Oct. 24 where in closed session the directors considered a performance evaluation of her. Board directors didn’t report the vote to fire her out of that meeting if that’s when it happened.
In response to Voice of OC questions asking when the vote happened and what exemption under state public meetings laws allows the board to take such a vote in closed session and keep it secret, fairgrounds spokesperson Terry Moore said Tuesday she was waiting for fair board directors to provide that information.
The Daily Pilot reported Tuesday that it had a dozen outstanding emailed questions as well.
Kramer’s status with the fair agency became unclear earlier this month after Voice of OC reported on her membership of a fundraising board for Vanguard University, a private Christian college across the street from the fairgrounds, while her agency gave state dollars to the school in contracts and sponsorship deals.
After Voice of OC published the report, fair officials called for an emergency closed session meeting on Monday, Oct. 21, and agendized an evaluation of Kramer’s performance as CEO in the closed session portion of their monthly Thursday, Oct. 24 meeting.
On Oct. 15, the Central Washington Fair agency in Yakima, Washington announced Kramer would be stepping in as their new CEO.
Kramer was absent for both of this month’s OC Fair Board meetings, where she usually sits with the board to help explain policies and contracts brought up by her staff for a board vote. She doesn’t make votes, but does lead the day-to-day administration of the 150-acre state fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
In the middle of their regularly scheduled monthly public meeting last Thursday, fair board directors went into closed session for over an hour. They disclosed nothing about any discussion during that meeting or any decision made in a vote behind closed doors.
It had been unclear until this week whether she would stay with the agency all the way up until she steps into her CEO role in Washington in February, 2020.
Kramer joined the fair agency, known officially as the Orange County Fair and Events Center, in 2015. Her leadership has been under scrutiny for years.
State auditors in 2017 revealed they uncovered a potentially illegal severance agreement with a fired employee that led to an overpayment of nearly $75,000.
This prompted the OC Fairgrounds Vice President of Finance Adam Carleton to publicly confront Kramer at a Board of Directors meeting about the overpayments after she suspended him in 2018 for refusing to recoup the payments from a former employee without a legal opinion from state human resources attorneys.
Fair officials later hired a private investigator to look into Carleton.
In 2017, Kramer joined the fundraising board for Vanguard University, according to IRS financial statements. The board’s mission, according to the disclosures, is to support the university “through fundraising and management of the endowment. Foundation directors are distinguished members of the community, primarily of Orange County, who support the mission of vanguard as ambassadors and donors.”
The OC fairgrounds’ business dealings with Vanguard also prompted the state to look into whether or not the contracts violate state anti-discrimination laws.
Students who violate Vanguard’s policies against same-sex relationships can be subject to disciplinary action, including expulsion, according to the university’s student handbook.
The state has refused to confirm or deny whether they’re still looking into the fairgrounds’ relationship with the college.
Kramer will replace the Central Washington State Fair’s current President and CEO, Greg Stewart, next year.
Stewart previously told Voice of OC that staff “exhaustively” reviewed the controversies around Kramer during her time as OC Fairgrounds CEO “and were satisfied with the answers.”
She’s slated to step into that role on Feb. 1.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.
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