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You can't kill a fair.

Your records can be so sloppy that you're scolded by an accountant who reviewed your finances and even by members of your own board.

You can alienate volunteers and tick off the parents of those earnest children in white shirts and string ties who raise hogs and steers. Your dealings can be so suspect that it inspires a criminal investigation.

Yet, people still come.

The current Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show isn't what it was a decade ago. It can't compete with the one I saw a few weeks ago in Pasco County.

But, considering all of the controversy and bad press, I was pleasantly surprised on Saturday evening to find that it had all the identifying features of a fair - that, despite the many problems of the fair association, the fair lives on.

There was a midway and a poultry show. There was live music and that fair staple - exhaust-spewing, not-ready-for-speedway motor sports, including a tractor pull.

Vendors sold treats such as fried cheese, one serving of which looked like it could do lasting damage to your arteries, and turkey drumsticks as big around as the head of a baseball bat.

Visitors could check out displays by schools and community groups or, among the art and craft exhibits, a stunningly detailed sugar-icing model of the old Hernando County courthouse, complete with the statue of the Confederate soldier on the lawn. Kathleen Barnes, of Brooksville, was in the same hall explaining the intricate, time-consuming job of weaving a rush chair.

"You got to get it straight," she said. "You got to get it tight."

The kids in the livestock barn were especially earnest - "cloverbuds" as the youngest members of 4-H are called - lined up nervously to be quizzed by judges about the chickens they had raised.

Less innocent were the politicians with petitions, but look at it this way: They wouldn't have been there if the crowd wasn't big enough to make it worth their while.

No, the fair wasn't packed. Some of the exhibition halls were nearly deserted, some of the school displays sadly neglected. I counted an audience of 14 listening to a musical duo, Local Harmony, which is a shame because they were really pretty good.

But before attendance started to drop off Monday, it was running slightly above last year's, said fair spokeswoman Sandra Nicholson. And the fair was so busy on Friday, when children under 18 were admitted free, that law enforcement had to break up crowds of rowdy teenagers.

This does not mean the association has proved the fair is in good hands.

No, what it shows is there is a great need to weed out the fair board members most responsible for its chaotic management. We shouldn't entrust such an important event to people who can't even say how they're spending the fair's money.

Because without totally discounting the work of the people who put it together, I think what has kept the fair going - and what has continued to make it a lucrative draw - is its basic appeal.

People think they have to go to big cities to get culture. But county fairs grew out of the urge of people to make a celebration of their work and the way they live.

Preserve the fair, cherish it, make it as great as possible. Because in places like Hernando, the fair is the culture.