Monday, September 29, 2003

State fair procedures remain

Manager leaving called unlikely to alter contract method

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Last week's resignation of Ohio's fair manager over allegations that he inappropriately accepted gifts from vendors doing business with the fair is unlikely to change the way contracts are awarded, the attorney general's office says.

Richard Frenette resigned Thursday at a meeting of the Ohio Expositions Commission. He has denied receiving some items and said others were given away to non-management employees at office parties.

Mark Gribben of the attorney general's office said most of the commission's major deals are "revenue contracts," meaning they hinge on how much a concessionaire will pay the commission to operate on the fairgrounds rather than how much the commission will pay for goods and services.

He said state law doesn't require the commission to bid out such contracts and award them based on the highest revenue.

Instead, the commission invites potential vendors to submit proposals and chooses one based on its own criteria. "The statute gives them a great deal of latitude," Gribben said.

Former expositions commission member Paul Corey said the commission awards contracts to those offering the best deal.

He was still on the board when Amusements of America, one of the vendors listed in the inspector general's report, received its first commission contract to run the fair's midway.

"I was present when we quizzed those guys," Corey said. "I can tell you, they were head and shoulders above the rest."

Jerry Hammer, general manager for the Minnesota State Fair, described Frenette as a sound professional with a good reputation.

Frenette came to Ohio in 1993 from Minnesota, where he was assistant general manager of the state fair

Frenette, the first Ohio fair director with previous experience in the field, immediately earned the respect of those in the business by ending the practice of wildly inflating state fair attendance figures.

"The Ohio State Fair attendance report before Rick got there was greeted with a wink and a smile throughout the fair industry," Hammer said. "Rick brought integrity to that process."

Fred Dailey, state agriculture director and expositions commission member, said he plans to help set new rules to avoid problems for a future manager.

"Gov. (Bob) Taft has made it clear he would like the commission to put in place and enforce new policies to correct the problems outlined in the inspector general's report," Dailey said.

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Sunday's local news report