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Forum editorial: Court can shine light on the fair

Taking the contract dispute at the Red River Valley Fair to court might not be such a bad idea. While it could cost the Fair Association some money, airing dirty laundry probably is just what the fair needs in order to restore its management's cr...

Taking the contract dispute at the Red River Valley Fair to court might not be such a bad idea. While it could cost the Fair Association some money, airing dirty laundry probably is just what the fair needs in order to restore its management's credibility and the event's luster.

Fired fair manager Bruce Olson is suing the association and the board's chairman, Kyle Anderson, for damages in excess of $200,000. Olson contends his firing was illegal because he had a seven-year verbal contract. The board said the manager's contract was a year-to-year renewal arrangement, and the only discussion of "seven years" was to lock in a yearly raise for Olson should he stay in the job. At this point, the association appears to have the stronger argument, but that's what the court will determine. The board and Anderson have 20 days from Olson's Dec. 20 filing to respond.

While we'd rather see Olson go quietly into the sunset, a courtroom just might be the right place to get to the bottom of the fair's management failures. Among questions yet to be answered following a recent audit of the fair's finances:

E Where did the money go that Olson spent? Who got it? For what purpose?

E Where are missing records? Who was responsible for them? Who, if anyone, caused them to be missing? Are we talking sloppiness or malfeasance?

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E Where were the members of the fair board? What happened to their oversight responsibility? Why did they fail to rein Olson in?

That last point should not be minimized. Board members and the board's executive committee were supposed to be the watchdogs. Instead, it appears they gave Olson too much latitude with minimal accountability in how he spent - or misspent - the fair's money. When they finally did call for an audit, the proverbial horse had left the barn after the door was closed. Now board members have an embarrassing mess to clean up, much of which is their own fault.

Finally, the board's responsibility extends to the taxpayers of Cass County because the fair gets a generous appropriation from the County Commission every year. If public money were misappropriated or stolen (and we are not saying that happened), and if records disappeared to hide potentially illegal management conduct, the Cass County state's attorney might take an interest in the fair's problems.

Stay tuned.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.

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