Yesterday a truly weird balloon was lofted over the dismal, cratered landscape of the Red County. It was another one of those the Fair Deal is Dead, I Don’t Care Once way or Another, Privatization is Good blog posts done by Matthew J. Cunningham. But Lo and Behold, he finally got around to actually discussing the activities of the Fair Board members who created a “Foundation” behind the scenes so that they could buy the Fairgrounds from themselves.
Here’s the first sparkler:
However, the OC Fair Board directors — or at least most of them — constituting themselves as the directors of a non-profit that would buy the fair was a very delicate political dance that has proved impossible to pull off. Not conducting the non-profit’s initial meeting in public was mistake and a PR black-eye, which fed into sale opponents’ message of “secrecy and corruption.” They have been beaten so badly with the Bad PR stick it’s doubtful their efforts buy the fair ground will ever succeed. At this point, better to stanch the bleeding and pull the plug.
So the real problem is not that they conspired to sell the Fair to themselves, and met secretly to discuss fair business, i.e. The Sale; no, rather that they couldn’t perform a “delicate political dance.” They have earned a “PR black-eye.” And have been beaten with the “Bad PR stick…” Oh, the poor misunderstood Foundation, er Fair Board.
It gets even better:
I do think the Fair Board directors have been unfairly assailed, and do not deserve the pitchfork treatment they’ve received. Sale opponents could and should have been able to mount a sound public policy case without resorting to throwing allegations at the wall in the hopes somehting would stick. Assemblyman Jose Solorio — who not so long ago voted to sell the fairgrounds — could have refrained from this kind of purple rhetoric: “misinformation and misrepresentations, conflicts of interests, questionable legal and ethical activities and a potential constitutional barrier regarding the sale of the property.”
Aha! Poor Fair Board as victims, unfairly assailed, with pitchforks no less (note: PR stick has morphed into pitchfork!). Oh yes, a mob has gathered to demand that such niceties as open meeting laws and conflict of interest rules for government appointees are upheld. Well, anyway, that’s a new approach. Wonder if it will work. And the subtle turn of the Fairground sale opponents into the actual villains of the piece is classic PR schtick, that of course nobody is going to fall for.
Here is Mr. Cunningham trying to disarm through humor. Bad strategy when this sense was apparently strangled in his crib:
If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read accusations of “conflict of interest” or “illegal lobbing,” I could put a down payment on the fairgrounds myself. But I have yet to see anyone produce any evidence to substantiate what are very serious accusations.
Well of course he hasn’t seen any evidence to substantiate anything. He obviously hasn’t looked for any. But others have, such as Nick Chrisos, the County Counsel, and the sequence of events point to the Board using public resources to incorporate itself as the “Foundation,” and hire Dick Ackerman to work to get AB22 passed; and then later (finally) in public, and as the Fair Board, hire a “consultant” (Ackerman’s firm, again) to go lobby the Governor for favorable conditions in the Request for Proposals from would-be buyers.
But our boy’s not done yet:
After funding a “Derail the Sale” campaign that has subjected the OC Fair Board directors to a hail of abuse, it will be interesting to see if Tel Phil Enterprises approaches the Fair Board for yet another rent reduction — and how such a request will be received. I think Tel Phil’s role has been one of the most interesting, and least remarked upon aspects of this imbroglio — after all, it isn’t often you see a government lessee going after its landlord.
A hail of abuse! Outrage: the old stand-by. Go on the offensive and attack! But wait, that won’t work – that will just make the ignorant pitchfork wielding villagers even madder! And nobody gives’s a rat’s ass about “Tel Phil.” Big plop sound.
And in conclusion:
In the meantime, there’ll be much sturm und drang that’ll will provide enough blog fodder for everyone, but in my humble opinion, were already at the Appomattox stage of this war.
Sarcastic sturm und drang. Blog fodder. Appomatox. In other words, lots of aimless speculation, and the deal’s done anyway, so break it up folks, go on home, nothing to see here!
But let’s hope this is not the end of the story. Many wars are followed up with legal proceedings to hash out things like reparations and responsibility. Let’s hope the end comes only after legal investigation into the doings of the Fair Board/Foundation and their “consultant” Dick Ackerman; and only after a plausible explanation is given as to why the public was billed over $19,000 to pay for legal/lobbying services that benefit the Fair Board directors who are also Foundation members.
As an alternative to this nonsense I recommend Barbara Venezia’s excellent column I shared with you a few days ago.