Group challenges county decision as pushing people to the curb

In a surprise move, the Washington County Fair Board voted unanimously on April 3 to formally cut ties with the Washington County Fairground Boosters, a nonprofit organization that helps promote the Washington County HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN
HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - The Washington County Fair's annual demolition derby usually comes on the last day of the fair and always draws a big crowd.

With the vote, the fair board officially disassociated itself from the boosters, which means the group will no longer be recognized as a support organization of the county’s annual fair.

Booster officials say the action came without warning and could lead to a possible legal fight with the county and the fair board.

Washington County Commission Chairman Andy Duyck, who also serves on the fair board, said the boosters had too often taken an adversarial stance in its interactions with the fair board.

“My only comment is that nobody even noticed when the boosters distanced themselves from the fair board by changing their name,” Duyck said. “They changed the name in the last couple of years from ‘Fair Boosters’ to ‘Fairground Boosters.’ This was a direct slap to the fair board that the boosters were attaching themselves to the land rather than to the fair board and the fair event.

“Why is anyone now shocked when the fair board reciprocates?”

The board’s resolution, approved 7-0, noted that the county fair is a public event that must maintain a positive image. The text of the resolution slammed the boosters: “The boosters do not represent a positive image of the Washington County Fair, and continue to actively and publicly oppose fair board policies, actions and staff choices,” read an excerpt.

The resolution included a statement that “the fairground boosters’ actions confuse the public about fair board policies and may have a detrimental effect of marketing the annual Washington County Fair, limiting opportunities and successes.”

Boosters Vice President Lyle Spiesschaert, who owns a farm near Forest Grove, said his organization had no inkling the fair board planned to cut itself off from the boosters.

“It was totally from out of who knows where,” Spiesschaert said. “It was not on the agenda. One of the troubling things is the lack of transparency. How does a public board arrive at this without discussion?”

Spiesschaert said the boosters have donated about a quarter million dollars to the fairgrounds during the past several years, adding to his shock at the fair board’s move.

“It’s unprovoked and without cause,” said Spiesschaert.

Protecting the fair’s image

Despite Spiesschaert’s surprise, it’s no secret that the Washington County Fairground Boosters and the fair board have been at odds in recent years.

In 2006, for example, the boosters organized opposition to a proposal that would have allowed developer Opus Northwest to revamp the fairgrounds, helping to kill the initiative.

The boosters also raised concerns about a subsequent proposal from Royal Faires Inc., a business that wanted to lease 25 acres to hold an annual Renaissance Festival. Members of the fair boosters claimed the developments could impact the traditional agricultural focus of the fair. The Royal Faires proposal also fell through, partly due to opposition from the boosters.

Another symbolic instance of the friction between the two groups was on display during a meeting of the fair board on Jan. 3, 2007. According to the minutes from that meeting, the board was discussing a proposal to create a new committee to work on proposals from the boosters. However, the chairman of the fair board at that time, Rich Vial, took issue with interruptions from Dave Rohrer, who was then president of the boosters, and called for a halt to the proceedings: “Chair Vial had to stop the meeting due to booster President Dave Rohrer interrupting from the audience twice,” read an excerpt from the minutes. “Vial stated he would give him one more chance, then would ask him to leave. Rohrer again interrupted from the audience and Vial requested that he leave.”

Spiesschaert said approval of the fair board’s April 3 resolution may have been determined before the meeting started.

“They knew before they got there. They had copies of the resolution,” Spiesschaert said. “That’s what is more troubling than anything. They had discussed this before the meeting. It was presented and they voted on it in 10 minutes.”

Spiesschaert added that he did not believe the fair board was playing by the rules. He claimed the standard process for the board to pass a resolution calls for a measure to be introduced at one meeting and voted on at the next meeting.

According to fair board President Don McCoun, the resolution came up now because the boosters recently asked to serve as roving ambassadors during this year’s Washington County Fair in July.

“I can’t think of anything I could do worse than sanctioning the boosters to be ambassadors out here answering questions after some of the stuff that happens,” McCoun said. “There are a lot of nice people in the boosters group. I know a lot of nice ones. But there are some very nasty people in that group and I think the only way we can protect this property’s image is to just cut that cord.”

‘Pushing to the curb’

Spiesschaert questioned the fair board’s independence to come to an objective decision.

“Duyck appointed all the fair board members,” he said. “I’m not a political activist, but there seems to be a move in the city that closes government off to a lot of people. It’s a pattern that’s troubling. Citizens need open and honest access to what’s going on. This move stirs things up and escalates it.”

Fair Board Vice President Betty Atteberry defended the board’s action, pointing out that she has served on many organizations and has never experienced “the kind of disagreements that we have here (with the booster club).”

“If we can somehow get the boosters to come to us with some positive things, maybe that’s a step in the right direction, but right now I haven’t seen that happen,” Atteberry said.

Spiesschaert said members of the boosters organization, between 80 and 100 people, have tried to work with the fair board.

“Our group doesn’t want these battles. We’d rather work in a positive manner. But I don’t know what to do any more,” said Spiesschaert. “This is our canary in the mine. This is indicative of pushing people to the curb.”by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - The Washington County Fair Board and the Washington County Fairground Boosters have been at odds at times over the best way to run the annual county fair. The popular event offers a variety of activities to attract visitors.

Spiesschaert added that the boosters group is keeping its options open as far as taking possible legal action against the fair board.

“That’s not our first choice,” Spiesschaert said. “But I don’t think they can say we can’t participate. These are public facilities. We can’t be barred.”

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