Fair board sees its records as public

While the Island County Fair Association waits to determine how it is legally obligated to treat its records, the county fair board will continue doling out information to the press as requested.

“I’m going to share the information with the newspapers like we always have,” said Dan Ollis, fair board chairman.

The Island County Fair Association has recently come under fire for its unwillingness to release records related to details about a land sale and donations to a legal fund. Although the fair board is a wholly separate entity, Ollis wanted clarification on their legal obligations. He spoke with David Jamieson, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney, who told Ollis that he was unable to issue an opinion.

Several board members on Monday initially supported a motion to have Ollis once again approach Jamieson on the public records issue. The attorney, however, represents the county, which is not affiliated with the board.

“The county attorney will not give us his opinion,” the board chairman said.

Controversy over the issuance of public records was generated by a 2003 management letter from the state auditor’s office to the Island County Board of Commissioners that referred to the association as a public entity, an assertion Seattle attorney Judith Endejan of Graham & Dunn has since refuted. A letter sent by the attorney this week to Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag outlined the confusion. She wrote that reporters from the South Whidbey Record have used the management letter’s conclusion to request access “to virtually all of (the association’s) records, including those that have nothing to do with the fair or the fairgrounds.” Endejan said the association’s functions are unrelated to the county functions and therefore not subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act.

The association’s “situation clearly presents a unique set of facts that your office unfortunately did not possess before it rendered its ‘conclusion,’” Endejan continued. “I am writing now to seek your advice or input on how to get these facts to your office so that this small organization can get some help without having to engage in costly litigation over its status.”

To cover all bases, Ollis spoke with a woman from the state auditor’s office and inquired about her next visit to Island County.

“I said, ‘Okay, would you please come now. I have a bunch of fair board volunteers that are wondering if they’re doing something right or they’re doing something wrong,’” Ollis said. The woman told him that the county is scheduled to be audited in June. “At this point in time, the state auditor has no issues with the Island County fair board that I’m aware of. … Hell, I was ready to pack up the books and go to her.”

Differentiating the board from the association and their respective public disclosure issues, Ollis said the organization he chairs has always given information freely.

“The association has their issues and I’m not here to talk about those issues, just our issues,” he said. “Until you tell me differently, I have no issues with sharing our minutes, our agendas, and what not.”

Jon Gabelein, 4-H representative to the board, emphatically agreed that the information should be available. He further asked about the board’s power to influence or compel the association to concur.

“I don’t care if there’s a law that says you can or can’t, I think it’s the right thing to do to share that information,” he said. “Can’t we give direction to the association to do the same, because I would sure like to.”

Ollis said the board does not have jurisdiction over the association.

In related business, the board chairman donned his association member’s hat and recounted a recent conversation he had with Debra Waterman, whose mother Margaret donated 10 acres of landlocked property to the association years ago. The sale of the land for $120,000 generated controversy.

“Debra has no issues with the sale price. The family has no issue how it transpired. She has no issues with the land sale, is what she wanted me to pass along,” he said. “She appreciates what we do as an organization.”

The fair board is currently engaged in a property condemnation procedure initiated by the city of Langley. Ollis said he gave Waterman his word that proceeds from the sale will not be used for legal fees. He explained to her that the money, which is presently being held in certificates of deposit, will be placed in a trust and only interest will be used for the benefit of the fair. The principle will remain untouched.

“The only thing Debra asked for is, would you get her a newsletter or something that shows what their family helped contribute to in the fair going forward,” he said.