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New law clarifies Indiana State Fair Board’s roleNew law clarifies Indiana State Fair Board’s role

A state legislator who backed the bill explains what it aims to accomplish.

Tom J Bechman 1

June 3, 2019

3 Min Read
sheep show
FAIR TIME: Livestock shows are a key part of the Indiana State Fair during its annual run each year.

If you exhibit at the Indiana State Fair or attend livestock shows, you’ve likely noticed changing roles for Indiana State Fair Board directors. Some duties once carried out by state fair directors have recently been handled by paid staff employed by the Indiana State Fair Commission.

You may notice more changes at the 2019 Indiana State Fair, spurred on by legislation passed during the 2019 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Don Lehe, Brookston, a farmer and longtime elected representative, was one of the sponsors of legislation aimed at accomplishing several things, including clarifying the role of the Indiana State Fair Board and streamlining procedures concerning how elected state fair directors are chosen.

Here is Lehe’s exclusive interview with Indiana Prairie Farmer.

What led to this legislation being drafted? We’ve heard over the last few years that the role of the Indiana State Fair Board has changed. There seemed to be controversy and confusion. There’s now a state fair commission, too. It was established nearly three decades ago. Most believe the original intent of the Legislature was for the commission to operate the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and for the Indiana State Fair Board to put on the fair. However, the law said in different places that both the state fair board and the commission were responsible for putting on the fair. One goal was to make it clear that the Indiana State Fair Board was to play an active role in operating the Indiana State Fair.

Who else supported the legislation? Reps. Bob Cherry and Jeff Thompson, plus other legislators, were very helpful in moving it forward. We relied on input from past and present state fair board members who were concerned about the future role of the state fair board and about how elected members were chosen. In the end, we received support from the state fair commission, as well.

What does the bill do besides clarify that the board plays a role in the fair? It clarifies which counties feed into which districts when for electing new fair board members, and that the Indiana State Department of Agriculture conducts that process. Any concerned groups — like 4-H, Extension or commodity groups of each county — can vote in elections for directors. Elections will be conducted by secret ballot. The legislation also adds a second state fair board member to the state fair commission. Until now, the board was represented on the commission by the board president. We’re confident the board has been represented well, but the feeling was that the board should have a larger presence on the commission.

Why do you believe this legislation is important? Our ultimate intent is to preserve the agricultural nature of the Indiana State Fair. We believe strengthening elections across the state and ensuring that the state fair board has input into operating the fair itself will help do that. In earlier days, if a problem arose and a decision needed to be made, a state fair director made it. In the recent past, those decisions were made by paid staff. We will see if the commission adjusts policies so state fair board directors again have input into important decisions. We look for continued cooperation of staff, board and the commission. We will monitor changes in policy and observe how things operate going forward.

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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