For 18 months controversy has swirled around the future of the Indiana State Fair Board. For more than two decades, the Indiana State Fair Commission, created by legislation, was entrusted with operating the ground year round, and the Indiana State Fair Board was charged with putting on the state fair itself.
At least that's how it appeared to work, and what past state fair board members claim as the way they understood it. We've checked the legislation that was passed years ago. It consists of many pages and is ambiguous, with certain sections implying the new Commission has authority even during the fair, and other sections stating that the Indiana State Fair Board is responsible for decisions relating directly to the fair.
The controversy developed when some members of the Indiana State Fair Board claimed off the record that the Commission and state fair administration were trying to phase out the role of state fair board members.
Andre Lacy, chairman of the Commission, flatly denied that was the case in a conversation with me. Yet the rumors persisted.
The issue reached a head at the October 2014 Indiana State Fair Board meeting when a vote occurred on proposed governance rules which would change duties of state fair board members. I covered that meeting. The motion was worded so that a new set of guidelines in writing would be issued soon for state fair board members.
New policies were finalized and presented to the State Fair Board in February. The Board accepted the new handbook at that meeting. Part of the motion included revisiting the handbook annually.
Why is this important? I see two reasons.
First, the Indiana State Fair Board serving as a working board during the fair is a long-standing tradition, and people in those spots have helped make the Indiana State Fair what it is today. It is still strongly tied to agriculture thanks to their efforts.
If board members no longer have the authority to help put on the fair, or if they resign rather than stay the course, we fear the working engine that helped make the Indiana State Fair a great state fair – the state fair board – will be in a precarious position.
Second, if the state fair board is phased out, either by rules, lack or meaningful duties or resignations, who will fight to keep agriculture as prominent in the state fair as it is today? In past meetings current fair leadership has assured me that agriculture is an important part of the fair, and intend for it to stay that way. Time will tell.
Two districts will elect state fair board members this fall after the fair. In at least one case the sitting member isn't seeking re-election. Ag groups are the ones who vote on the director. Be sure your ag group is represented. And encourage good, qualified people to run as candidates for fair board positions.
In the meantime, if you visit the 2015 fair and we encourage you to do so, keep an eye out for Indiana State Fair Board members. What is their new role? What are they no longer doing? Does it appear to affect the fair in any way? Do livestock shows run as smoothly as in the past?
With failed crops, low prices, flooding issues and more, the Indiana State Fair is understandably likely down your list of priorities. But we hope you find enough time to pay attention to what's happening. If you like it, let people know. If you don't, let them know too.
From where we sit, the resolution of this issue, if it is to be positive for the fair and agriculture, likely lies with the legislature. The roles and duties of Indiana State Fair Board members and the Commission need clarification. Nothing happened to clarify it in this year's session. Let your representative know if you think something should happen in the General assembly in 2016.
Photo gallery: Come on out to the 2015 Indiana State Fair!