Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando County Fair Association already guilty of running fair into the ground

You can see why the Hernando County Fair Association doesn't want the world — or even several of its own board members — to see how it handles money.

A bag stuffed with cash left untended in a closet; a stinky deal that pays the husband of the association's treasurer $65,000 a year to maintain the buildings and grounds; record keeping so sloppy that former association president Sandra Nicholson says she still doesn't know whether last year's fair turned a profit.

Sunday's story by Times staffers Logan Neill and Barbara Behrendt uncovered this mess. The Sheriff's Office has launched an investigation to determine whether it's more than that, whether it's a criminal mess.

Good thing, too, because that money is our money. We entrusted it with the association, or at least with the handful of folks who have been running it the last few years.

We also trusted them with something else, an institution. And we don't need detectives to tell us that in this regard they've already committed a serious offense.

They ran it into the ground.

It's easy to forget because recent editions have been so dreary, but in the middle of the last decade the fair was one of the best things this county had going.

Kids loved it. For adults, it was like a good cocktail party in that you stopped every few feet to chat with somebody you knew.

There were musical acts people had actually heard of. The displays of arts, crafts, canning and baking buzzed with participants and viewers.

The fair organizers staged events based on then-trendy television shows, such as Fear Factor and American Idol. They reintroduced old standards, such as pie-eating contests and a demolition derby. A professional rodeo helped push attendance of the weeklong fair to well over 30,000.

Nicholson has made a lot of strangely unbelievable statements in her new role as fair spokeswoman, so it's no surprise that she says things really haven't changed.

And, true enough, the livestock show is still going strong, and the demolition derby has remained a staple.

She also said that old, fun events have been replaced by equally fun ones, such as a Mutton Bustin' Contest, a sheep rodeo for children. And attendance has not gone down dramatically, she said, holding steady in recent years at between 20,000 and 25,000.

But even if those numbers are accurate — a legitimate question, given that the association seems allergic to precise record keeping — it misses the point.

Besides the livestock show and the midway, there isn't a whole lot to do. You don't seem to see as many people you know. Nicholson herself has complained of a chronic shortage of volunteers.

Maybe because not enough of them have been asked.

Remember the celebrity cow-milking contest that used to kick off the fair, organized with the help of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce? It quit happening mostly because the association quit calling, said chamber president Pat Crowley.

"That relationship just sort of went away," she said.

Rick Ahrens, a veteran agricultural science teacher and the adviser of the Brooksville chapter of FFA, said livestock folks have felt shut out of the fair's operation. So did former board members such as Joe Bernardini and Jan Knowles, both of whom who have enough connections to bring in dozens of volunteers.

This is understandable in a way. If I were handling things the way the fair association has, I wouldn't want people watching either.

But secrecy has a price. In trying to protect themselves, those few core members of the association have shut out the community.

They have circled the wagons against the thing that made the fair worthwhile.

Comments
At second St. Petersburg Women’s March, 5,000 focus on

At second St. Petersburg Women’s March, 5,000 focus on "what we can do"

ST. PETERSBURGNear Mirror Lake, as protestors posed for pictures, hung signs on their dogs and distributed chant scripts just after noon Sunday, Linda Pair and her friend Beth Gavin arrived to march.Asked why she came out, Pair, 72 of Largo, put it b...
Updated: 25 minutes ago

Deputies: 18-year-old speeding on U.S. 19 faces charges of DUI, fleeing scene

PALM HARBOR — A speeding driver on U.S. 19 refused to stop for deputies and took off, later rear-ending a car and injuring three people early Sunday morning, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.A little after 1:30 a.m., Kingzig Montanez...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Factory fire traps in workers, killing at least 17; Kabul siege ends violent 24 hours; more in world news

Factory fire traps in workers, killing at least 17; Kabul siege ends violent 24 hours; more in world news

IndiaFactory fire kills at least 17A fire at an industrial building on the outskirts of New Delhi broke out as workers were stuffing gunpowder into firecrackers, trapping many of them on the factory’s upper floors as it spread, and leaving at least 1...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Up to 1,000 more US troops could be headed to Afghanistan this spring

Up to 1,000 more US troops could be headed to Afghanistan this spring

The U.S. Army is readying plans that could increase the total force in Afghanistan by as many as 1,000 U.S. troops this spring beyond the 14,000 already in the country, senior military officials said.Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has not signed off on...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Fifth-grader thought she brought gummy candies to school, but they were laced with marijuana

Fifth-grader thought she brought gummy candies to school, but they were laced with marijuana

A 9-year-old student in New Mexico gave fellow students gummies - only to realize later they were not ordinary candies.The candies had apparently been laced with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical responsible for how marijuana affects the bra...
Updated: 6 hours ago
The St. Petersburg Women’s March: Here’s what you need to know

The St. Petersburg Women’s March: Here’s what you need to know

ST. PETERSBURG — On Sunday afternoon, people will take part in the Women’s March, part of a series of marches taking place this weekend. Here’s what you need to know:When is the Women’s March?The march begins at noon on Sunday, Jan. 21, and a rally w...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Forecast: Sunny, high of 78 in Tampa Bay

Forecast: Sunny, high of 78 in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — Temperatures should reach the upper 70s on a warm, sunny, mild Sunday, kicking off a mild week in Tampa Bay, forecasters predict. 10News WTSPThe latest Tampa Bay-area radar 10News WTSPFeels...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

A woman sailing on a Carnival Cruise Line ship from Jacksonville fell from her cabin’s balcony and died Friday.Doral-based Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Vance Gulliksen confirmed the death Saturday, saying in a statement that the incident occurred e...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Record number of inmates died in Florida prisons last year. And they died younger than past years.

Record number of inmates died in Florida prisons last year. And they died younger than past years.

More inmates died in Florida prisons last year than in any other year on record, leaving the state scrambling to identify causes and find solutions. The tally, 428 inmate deaths in 2017, was released late Friday by the Florida Department of Correctio...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Ignoring all available evidence that screen time and social media exposure can be harmful to kids, Facebook recently unveiled a new messaging app targeting children under 13. It’s yet another battlefront for parents who have to constantly combat the ...
Published: 01/21/18