Saturday, September 27, 2003

State fair director resigns under fire

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - The director of the Ohio State Fair quit after denying allegations that he inappropriately accepted gifts.

Richard Frenette, manager of the Ohio Expositions Center since 1993, submitted his resignation Thursday at a regularly scheduled Ohio Expositions Commission meeting. Two days earlier, a report by the state watchdog uncovered a "proliferation of gift giving" from vendors doing business with the fair.

Frenette said allegations in Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles' report were unfounded. The report criticized him and other fair employees.

Commission Chairwoman Dorothy Jones said the commission will do a nationwide search for a replacement. Until one is found, Jones said the Expo Center's No. 2 man, Virgil Strickler, will take over.

Frenette said unsolicited gifts from vendors were used as door prizes at the annual holiday employee recognition dinner, and that previous assistant attorneys general had told him the practice was permitted.

"I realize now from this report that we followed bad advice," Frenette said. "As general manager, I take full responsibility for this, but I want to reiterate I did not personally accept any of these gifts."

The report said Frenette improperly accepted golf outings, meals and other gifts, including $898 in sports tickets from Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., which operates food services on the fair grounds.

The inspector general's report also said that Frenette failed to address "the proliferation of gift giving over a period of years involving Expo officials."

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