OKANOGAN Okanogan County commissioners’ decision to eliminate two employee positions at the fairgrounds last week has been met with some outrage.
But one commissioner says it’s all part of a bigger plan.
“It’s unfortunate that people are jumping to conclusions,” Commissioner Jim DeTro said last Thursday, but “this is exactly what we were talking about and have been talking about for a month.”
He said the office and maintenance employee positions were eliminated as a result of the reorganization of the Parks and Recreation Board and the creation of the new Fair Advisory Committee, which were announced last month.
DeTro said reports that two employees were escorted off-premises April 29 by Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office deputies are false, as is the claim that all three commissioners were on site at the same time.
A quorum of two or more commissioners would have constituted a meeting that would’ve been properly noticed under the state Open Public Meetings Act.
The office employee went with the county’s human resources coordinator, while the maintenance worker went with commission Chairman Ray Campbell, DeTro said.
“That’s standard procedure with any county employee. It’s for their protection, so that nobody can accuse them of doing something wrong,” he said.
In addition to eliminating the jobs, county commissioners sent out letters to all the current board members excusing them from duty, but inviting them to reapply for the board or the fair committee.
Likewise, DeTro said the two employees were also notified via letter that they’re welcome to apply for other jobs with the county in the future. He said the employees were also provided with some compensation, but couldn’t recall the details.
The Chronicle requested copies of those letters last Thursday, but they were not available before deadline.
“That’s it in a nutshell, and all of this stuff has gotten blown completely out of proportion,” DeTro said. “It’s not performance-based. Positions were eliminated, and we’re going to restructure.”
The Parks and Recreation Board and Fair Advisory Committee will not have employees, only volunteer board members. To keep the fairgrounds running, the county is looking into hiring a facilities manager, he said.
“We’re not really sure right now. We’re just kicking things around,” he said. “Some counties run it through public works, some run it through maintenance personnel…. We’re looking into the different things and how we’re going to restructure budgets… it’s going to be a process.”
“I actually like this new set up better,” said Bill White, a now-former Parks and Recreation Board member who is applying to serve on the fair committee. “As parks and rec board members, we were managing the buildings and grounds and personnel along with organizing the fall fair. The board had so many tasks to do that had nothing to do with putting on a fall fair that we were all overwhelmed…. I feel like a huge burden has been removed from our heads.”
Meanwhile, phone calls to the fair office, 175 Rodeo Trail Road, are either being answered by a volunteer or voicemails are checked, and planning for the annual Okanogan County Fair, scheduled for Sept. 4-7, is still under way.
“All of those functions as to what is going to happen at the fair are continuing on,” DeTro said, noting that White has been working on the annual Premium Book and new restrooms will be built soon.
“I think the commissioners are trying to save money and use other people they already have working for the county to pick up these tasks,” White said. “The fairgrounds belong to the county and I feel the county commissioners are responsible for its upkeep and they can likely do it much cheaper than we have been doing.
“I am very confident this new organization will work much better than before… I think with our only task of putting on the fall fair the public will start noticing the quality of the fair will be greatly improved.”
With the creation of the Parks and Recreation Board under the proper Revised Code of Washington, DeTro said it will administer trails and trailheads, maintain the fairgrounds and might eventually collaborate with local snowmobile and ATV clubs or other recreation-minded groups.
As of last week the county had received three applications for the fair committee and three more people indicated their interest in serving on the Parks and Recreation Board, DeTro said. One retired man has offered to consult with the board since his college major was parks and recreation, but is unable to be a board member because he travels frequently.
County commissioners hope to get both boards filled as soon as possible.
“We want to go through the process and interview all of those people, make sure they’ve got their policies and procedures signed and they know the bylaws,” DeTro said. “If the people of the county will let cooler heads prevail, things are going to be fine.”