BROOKSVILLE — An internal investigation of the Hernando County Fair Association criticizes the organization's leadership for inefficiencies and a lack of interoffice discipline, which it says "has created an impression of impropriety where none may actually exist."
The investigation was conducted at the direction of the fair association board. The four-page report was prepared by board members Elliott Ambrose, Jim Gordon and Teresa Voiles, and deals primarily with concerns that were raised this month when fair representatives went before the Hernando County Commission to request financial assistance for this year's fair, which is scheduled to open April 4.
The fair association — seeking $20,000 to help market the fair, plus a $10,000 waiver of dumping fees — was told by commissioners to return with more information. A few days later, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office opened an investigation after receiving a complaint by a former board member who questioned the fair association's handling of financial matters, contractor bidding and its unwillingness to follow procedures in its bylaws.
The internal report concluded with concerns about what committee members called a "pattern of inefficiency and a lack of interoffice discipline with regard to those conducting day-to-day affairs of the association."
The committee's investigation focused primarily on questions raised by county commissioners over a 2012 accountant review presented to them that contained altered dates. The committee concluded that the alterations were made by fair president Robin McAndrew, who changed the dates on her personal copy of the financial statement and did not intend to have it presented to the commission.
However, the report was critical of McAndrew and the rest of the fair board's executive committee, saying that the handling of the document demonstrated "a lack of preparation, competence with and command of the subject matter" as well as a "lack of interoffice discipline in this regard."
The report also chastised the executive board for not completing its 2013 financial review, which remains about eight months past due. The committee looked into McAndrew's assertion that the delay was due to problems coordinating with Pam McKinney, the certified public accountant whom the association has used the past several years. It found that the information needed to complete the review was never delivered to McKinney.
McKinney told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday that she called the fair association several times requesting financial information, but never received it. She said she is no longer interested in providing service to the fair association. She said she was "not happy" to have been blamed for the delay.
In its recommendations to the fair board, the committee implores the association to consider hiring an accountant to perform a forensic analysis of the fair's books and to take steps to make the organization more transparent to the community.
"Special emphasis should be placed on avoiding conflicts of interest," the report says. "All transactions should be done within the purview of public scrutiny."
Gordon, a retired bank executive, told the Times that doing so is paramount to restoring public trust in the fair association.
"We felt that in order to properly clear the air, we need to find a CPA firm just as soon as possible," he said.
Former fair president Sandra Nicholson, who was appointed last week to act as spokeswoman for the fair board, said there was no formal approval of the committee's report by the board, and she expressed skepticism about its conclusions. The committee members who wrote it "don't even know what policies are in place," Nicholson said.
Nicholson, who served four years as president, said she was reluctant to support a complete audit of the fair's finances.
"It's going to cost us an arm and a leg, and we're here operating on a shoestring," she said.
Meanwhile, Nicholson said that the fair association likely will not return to the County Commission to seek funding until the sheriff's investigation is completed.
Times staff writers Barbara Behrendt and Dan DeWitt contributed to this report.