Monday, April 23, 2018
News Roundup

Former Hernando Fair Association board members have long questioned group's finances

BROOKSVILLE — Ty Mullis had been tending the livestock gate at the 2013 Hernando County Fair for hours.

As the livestock auction and his day of volunteer work drew to a close, Mullis knew he looked a little disheveled, so he headed into the fair office to tuck in his shirt. The only area for some privacy was a small closet.

He slipped in and straightened himself up, then spotted something unexpected. A bag stuffed with money was lying unsecured on top of the safe.

Mullis took it to fair treasurer Shari Klimas.

"I've been looking all over for that,'' Klimas told him.

Her nonchalance gave him pause.

Mullis, then a member of the fair board, took it as one more example of the lax, uncontrolled and curious manner in which he'd seen fair officers handle the association's finances.

Over time, he had found himself questioning numerous procedures at the fair and at the fairgrounds. But Mullis says that as he tried to suggest ways to tighten up the operation and delve into association's financial records, he always hit a wall.

Requests for records were not responded to in a timely manner or were ignored entirely. Suggestions for improvements were rejected.

And Mullis wasn't the only board member who had that same experience. Eventually, all of them were voted off the board.

Just how the Hernando County Fair Association runs its operation has been questioned by a number of directors for several years. When officials from the association appeared before the County Commission recently and asked for financial help from the taxpayers, those questions surfaced yet again.

Sensing that the association was trying to mislead the commission, Mullis filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Office over a financial statement that appeared to have been falsified. Sheriff's officials have opened an investigation after determining there is "reasonable suspicion."

After an emergency meeting last week, the fair board appointed past president Sandra Nicholson to be their spokeswoman and assist in an advisory capacity. She denied that the association had done anything wrong and that records have ever been kept from anyone.

"It's always been open,'' said Nicholson, who served as fair president from 2008 to 2013. "My life is an open book.''

• • •

Despite the fair association's stated mission to abide by its bylaws, former board members describe a frustrating jumble of inconsistency where insiders on the board reap benefits and established policies are routinely abandoned in favor of expediency.

During his time on the board in 2012 and 2013, Mullis said, he saw many things that alarmed him, including a lack of controls over cash transactions, questionable bidding practices with contractors and a general lack of transparency when it came to the association's finances.

When Mullis suggested a ticket system to keep track of how many cars were parked at the fair and how much cash should have been collected, he was told no. When he asked why cups were not inventoried to keep track of how much beer was being sold, he got no answer.

Others who saw problems said that they, like Mullis, were turned aside and eventually driven from the board.

Jan Knowles, who joined the board during the late 1990s as a representative from the county's Tourist Development Council, said she got tired of the lack of straight answers.

"I became concerned about my own liability," said Knowles, who had been the fair's volunteer coordinator when she failed to get enough votes to remain on the board. "It became so contentious, and if you weren't part of the yes crowd, they had no use for you."

Brooksville City Council member and former fair president Joe Bernardini said his concerns about the operation of the fair association led to his motion at a 2008 board meeting to have the association pay for a forensic audit of its books.

The board voted him down but did agree to pay for a standard audit to be completed by 2011. That audit has yet to be ordered.

"I still can't figure it out," Bernardini said. "Having an audit done would answer a lot of questions that people have. As it stands, the suspicions have only grown."

Others who have asked to see the fair's financial records say they were often met with scorn by members of the executive committee. Requests for monthly profit and loss statements either were ignored, delayed or only partially complied with, making it difficult to track where the association's money was going, said Walt Boehme, who served about a year on the board until he resigned in June 2012.

"It would take months to get them, if you got them at all," Boehme said. "They would try to stall you as long as they could or until you quit asking for them."

For months last year, Mullis tried to obtain a copy of the association's check register to verify the association's spending on certain items, but he never was successful.

Though the bylaws require an annual audit of the association, Nicholson acknowledged that she never had an audit conducted during her time as president.

"I'm a layman,'' she said. "I really didn't know the difference between an annual report, an audit and a forensic audit.''

Nicholson denies that she kept board members from seeing financial information and said she encouraged board members with questions to come into the office and look at records, including Mullis. But she said Mullis became difficult to deal with.

"You can't sit at a board meeting and give out the perception and the body language that 'I don't care what you say. I'm not going to believe you,' " she said.

Another persistent question by the past board members is the relationship between Nicholson, association grounds manager Richard Klimas and his wife, Shari, the board treasurer.

Richard Klimas, who is listed in a document filed with the IRS as having made more than $65,000 from the fair association during 2011, also owns Brooksville Pulling Association, which puts on events at the fairgrounds. He was partially paid for upgrading the arena on the grounds several years ago and paid partially in credits. That banked money is used to pay his $500 rent each time his private company uses the arena for an event.

He also used his credits to pay a portion of the costs for a 2012 event called the Baddest Mudder. But the organizer of the event got into a dispute over his portion of the payment, costing the fair association $1,500, Nicholson said. To pay Klimas back for the credits, the organizer provided him with T-shirts and hats printed with the Brooksville Pulling Association logo.

Nicholson said she takes the blame for not following the usual contract form for the event, but saw no problem with Klimas getting shirts and hats.

Nicholson maintains that the Klimas family is integral to the operation of the fair and that they would be difficult to replace. She said she doesn't see a conflict in their relationship with the association because two officers must sign any check made out to Richard Klimas.

However, others on the board did see a conflict, including Knowles, who upon leaving sent an email stating the board "is now run totally by the Klimas family. And I am glad I will not be part of the destruction."

The Klimases declined to comment about their dealings with the fair association. Nicholson said she had been appointed to represent them.

• • •

Past members of the fair association board aren't alone in their attempts to get straight answers from fair officials.

When Nicholson, Richard Klimas and current fair president Robin McAndrew presented their request for help to the County Commission in late January, they misled the board on several points, Nicholson admitted later.

• McAndrew was wrong when she said the association had never in its 63-year history asked the county for financial help.

• Klimas was wrong when he said the association leases the fairgrounds from the county. The association owns the grounds.

• While Nicholson had told a Tampa Bay Times reporter that the association would seek $20,000 from the commission and the Times published that fact prior to the meeting, when she stood before county commissioners she said she had no idea from where that figure had come.

Nicholson says the fair association, in response to a request by county commissioners, plans to put together additional information and come back before the commission in the weeks ahead to discuss its request.

In the meantime, the association continues to deal with internal problems.

The county can't find annual reports for the fair association that Nicholson told commissioners would answer their questions. And recently, the association has had to clear up paperwork glitches that have dissolved the fair as a corporation, temporarily taken away its tax-exempt status and threatened a seizure of its assets.

The association currently has $91,922.72 in all of its accounts, Nicholson told the Times on Friday. But she still doesn't know whether the fair turned a profit last year because the books have not yet been done.

The current directors have asked for those numbers, Nicholson acknowledged.

"I totally agree'' with the board's frustration, she said. "It should have been done. It should have been done months ago.''

Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

Comments
It’s a boy! Kate Middleton gives birth to third royal baby

It’s a boy! Kate Middleton gives birth to third royal baby

LONDON — Kensington Palace says the Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to her third child, a boy weighing 8 pounds, 7 ounces (3.8 kilograms).The palace says the child was born at 11:01 a.m. (1001 GMT), a few hours after Kate was admitted to London’...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Can New Tampa handle nearly 700 more homes? Not without major changes, council member says

Can New Tampa handle nearly 700 more homes? Not without major changes, council member says

TAMPA — New Tampa was built on sprawl. Big houses, often in gated communities with lots of green space, are the operating principle for developing the area Tampa annexed in pieces starting in the mid 1980s.But residents who love the good schools and ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Scattered showers, thunderstorms kick off muggy week across Tampa Bay

Scattered showers, thunderstorms kick off muggy week across Tampa Bay

A large, disturbed weather system could drop thunderstorms and scattered showers across Tampa Bay. This is the same system that has caused water spouts and tornadoes to touch down around the Fort Walton Beach area in the Florida panhandle.This storm...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Waffle House customer on why he rushed shooter: ‘He was going to have to work to kill me’

Waffle House customer on why he rushed shooter: ‘He was going to have to work to kill me’

Moments before the first shot, James Shaw Jr. was watching a Waffle House employee wash dishes, stacking them higher and higher. When the first shot was fired, Shaw thought the tower of plates had come crashing down, he would later recount at a news ...
Updated: 2 hours ago

The Daystarter: Scott touts term limits in D.C.; Hillsborough teachers get day in court; All Children’s Heart Institute had ‘challenges’; Lightning tickets on sale today

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• We’ll have highs today ranging from the lower 80s to upper 80s with scattered showers and thunderstorms likely throughout the day, according to the National Weather Service.• As you h...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Waffle House suspect still being sought; residents on alert

Waffle House suspect still being sought; residents on alert

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As an intensive manhunt continues for the suspect in a Waffle House restaurant shooting that killed four people, police are warning residents of a Nashville neighborhood to beware of the alleged killer. More than 80 Nashville polic...
Updated: 2 hours ago
PolitiFact Florida: Does Gov. Rick Scott want to privatize Social Security?

PolitiFact Florida: Does Gov. Rick Scott want to privatize Social Security?

The president of a PAC that works to protect Social Security says Florida Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t have the backs of senior citizens.Jon "Bowzer" Bauman, the president of the Social Security Works PAC (and a former member of the band Sha Na Na), blast...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Hooper: Leader’s vision may lead to new Woodson Museum spot

Hooper: Leader’s vision may lead to new Woodson Museum spot

Premier Eye Care CEO Lorna Taylor received the inaugural Winnie Foster Lifetime Achievement Award at a Carter G. Woodson Museum event Sunday in St. Petersburg.The award is as much about what she hopes to do as what she’s already done for the museum. ...
Published: 04/23/18
Apartments planned for shuttered stores at Pasco’s Gulf View Square mall

Apartments planned for shuttered stores at Pasco’s Gulf View Square mall

PORT RICHEY — The new owner of two shuttered department stores at Gulf View Square mall wants to demolish the former retail outlets and replace them with nearly 400 apartments.The complex, called Gables at Gulf View, would be on the west side of the ...
Published: 04/23/18
A new museum will honor America’s lynching victims, including those killed in Tampa Bay

A new museum will honor America’s lynching victims, including those killed in Tampa Bay

In May 1914, a Hernando County grand jury decided not to indict John Davis, a black man accused of attempting to assault a white woman in a hotel. But days after he was released from the Citrus County jail, Davis’s body was found beaten with a broken...
Published: 04/23/18