News Column

County fair veterans looking for answers

February 10, 2014

By Dan Linehan, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

Feb. 10--MANKATO -- A group of 15 shareholders, many of them former fair board members, are asking the leadership of the Blue Earth County Fair for a litany of documents, especially financial information.

"We're not accusing anybody of anything, we just want to know what's going on," Good Thunder resident Jean Lundquist said.

"There's a couple of things that just don't make sense to us," said Lundquist, who had served on the board for eight years, including about a year and a half as president.

For example, if $150,000 was spent for the 2013 fair, as the letter states, what was it spent on? And if the fair is in debt, who is it in debt to?

In January, shareholders voted 175-to-76 to move the fair from Garden City to Mankato, but Lundquist said these questions aren't about the move.

Fair Board President Kelly Marks said the association is in the midst of an audit that is expected to be completed in about a month. A new board of directors was voted in last November, she said.

Until the audit is released, it seems that information is in short supply. Marks said the $150,000 figure was too high, for example, but she didn't know the precise amount because the paperwork is with the auditor.

The letter itself came from a relative minority of the more than 300 shareholders, she noted.

As for the request, it's part of the public record and anyone can come to the office to look at it any time, Marks said. Monday was the first time it had been requested, she said.

But former board member Hugh Belgard said that information hasn't been readily available in the past two meetings he's attended.

At the January meeting, he said he asked how the $150,000 was spent, if that figure is correct, but the explanation covered perhaps a tenth of that total.

"These are questions we want answers to," Belgard said. "If they've got the answers, fine. If they don't, that's fine. We've been to two meetings now and they can't answer those questions."

He is also concerned that money was stolen from the fair.

That's a concern of Lundquist's, too, after a December Free Press story mentioned board members resigning in November after being accused of theft.

The letter's request for information covers generalities, such as contact information for all current board members, as well as specifics, such as the caretaker's expense in 2013. (The caretaker was paid $18,000 in 2012, tax records show.)

Blue Earth County supports the fair to the tune of about $40,000 a year, said Commissioner Will Purvis, a former fair board member.

He said the fair should possess the information requested in the letter.

"I doubt it'll be a problem for them," he said.

Marks seemed frustrated by the tone of the letter, which asks the board to go on suspension unless it can provide the information. After all, she and the rest of the board are volunteers.

Ironically enough, Lundquist can relate.

"It's kind of a thankless job," she said.


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Source: Free Press (Mankato, MN)

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