Lost in Tuesday night’s chaotic discussion over when to hold a public hearing on the future of the fairgrounds, Metro Councilman Eric Crafton led the withdrawal of his bill to remove and replace the five-member Board of Fair Commissioners.
At the time of filing the resolution, Crafton said, “It’s nothing personal, but they’ve said they can’t make it work,” referring to the finances of the Metro-owned fairgrounds.
But on Tuesday, the council voted to withdraw the bill at the request of the Bellevue councilman, who — after conferring with the council’s Rules-Confirmations-Public Elections Committee — concluded the five fair commissioners may have different views. Some may think they can financially sustain the fairgrounds, while others may not, he said.
“What we’re doing is we’re extending them an opportunity to come meet with the rules and confirmation committee, and I plan to look each one of them in the eye, should they choose to accept the offer to come to speak,” Crafton told his council colleagues. “I want to ask them, ‘Are you committed to making the fairgrounds work? Are you committed to making it profitable or to at least break even?”
“And if they say, ‘Yes,’ that’s great. But if [they] say, ‘No,’ that might mean they should resign,” he added.
It seems unlikely Crafton will have the chance to ask those questions in a council setting.
The genesis of Crafton’s request –– and bill –– was “Rule 44” of the council’s rules of procedures, which allows the council to call for the removal of board members. Part of the rule says commissioners “may” appear at a corresponding rules committee meeting but are not “compelled” to.
Prior to Tuesday’s council meeting, board chair James Weaver declined Crafton’s invitation in an email to council members who serve on the rules committee.
“They [the fair commissioners] should not be made a pawn in a political dispute between the executive and legislative branches of government, no matter how worthy or hotly contested the underlying cause may be,” Weaver said in the email.
“Our silence should not be considered an act of disrespect,” he continued. “We deeply respect the individual members of the committee, the committee as a whole, the members of council and the council as an institution.”
Contacted by The City Paper, Weaver pointed out that he and his fellow fair board members have appeared before the council’s Codes, Fair and Farmers Market Committee numerous times. He said the board is more than willing to answer additional fairgrounds questions moving forward, but questioned whether invoking “Rule 44” is appropriate.
“Asking board members questions while they’re standing on the gallows seems a little dramatic,” Weaver said.
Weaver readily responded to Crafton’s questions.
“Each member of the board has always been committed to the fair, the flea market and to the expo events,” Weaver said. “We’ve always been committed to those three events. What we have said is that we have found it practically impossible to break even with those three events on this site.
“We’re completely committed to a sustainable, growing, vibrant state fair,” Weaver added. “We’re completely committed, have been, and remain committed to one of the better flea markets in the Southeast. And we’ve said all along, consistently, that the space that we provide for our expo event clients is an important part of the overall event landscape of the city. We’ve never said anything other than that.”