Reported By Nancy Amons
Monday is a critical day for the upcoming Tennessee State Fair. It's the day the Fair board decides whether to back out of a pending contract with the organization it selected to run the fair, the Tennessee State Fair Association.
Video: Fair Board Criticized For Part Of Fair's Handling
New information uncovered by Channel 4 News shows that same organization was criticized for the way it conducted the agricultural portion of the 2010 state fair.
For some, the draw of the state fair is the midway; but the tradition of the fair is deeply rooted in agriculture.
Internal emails obtained by Channel 4 show that some fair board staff members felt they had been misled by last year's organizers, who, according to the email, had promised "huge livestock shows" that never materialized. The email indicates that prize money for people who entered livestock competitions had been slashed by 80 percent.
The series of email exchanges were written Aug. 5, 2010, between the fair board's accountant Howell Townes and Fair Board Executive Director Buck Dozier.
The accountant reviewed money the fair organizers planned to offer as prizes, or premiums, for the agricultural and creative arts categories.
Townes writes, "It is personally disappointing to me now, to realize it appears we were 'misled' (perhaps too weak of a term)," about huge and expensive livestock events.
Townes writes, "I was not prepared mentally for the shock of the amount of the reduction in cash premiums," which Townes characterized as "dramatic and huge."
"I was absolutely astounded, shocked, amazed and disappointed," Townes writes.
The accountant asked if there was any way the premiums could be added back, or if it they were too close to the opening date to do anything about it.
Dozier replied to Townes, "The numbers are unbelievable. ... The agricultural community is not happy. It will be tough to get them back in my judgment."
The Tennessee State Fair Association has been chosen by the Fair Board to put on the 2011 fair, despite the staff's criticisms of the 2010 show. TSFA organized the agricultural part of the fair; a for-profit contractor ran the midway.
The Fair Board's chairwoman, Katy Varney, said the board chose TSFA to run the 2011 fair because the board thought they would put on the "best fair," given the group's agricultural background.
John Rose is the former commissioner of agriculture under former Gov. Don Sundquist. State Sen. Joe Haynes also sits on the TSFA board.
"The history of the Tennessee State Fair Association, as far as the membership of their board, is clearly tied to agriculture, livestock. All the things that make a great fair, a great fair," Varney said.
The issue of prize money has been a concern among fair board members. They voted in April to require a minimum of $150,000 for prizes.
That minimum requirement, voted on by the board in April, disappeared from the contract that was renegotiated privately between Varney and TSFA's Rose the night before the May 3 fair board meeting.
Rose confirmed to Channel 4 there is no mention of minimum premiums in the draft contract.
"The compromise that we reached was for that to be left to the discretion of the Tennessee State Fair Association," Rose told Channel 4.
Rose said he expected his organization to give away between $70,000 and $80,000 in prizes.
Unless the contract is amended, there is nothing the fair board or the city can do to enforce the minimum prizes the board voted to adopt in April.
The Fair Board contract is up in the air after a Channel 4 story Wednesday that showed how the contract was awarded to TSFA based on inflated attendance numbers.
Varney told the Fair Board 240,000 attended the state fair last year; therefore, TSFA's proposal was financially the best for the city, since the group was offering to pay between $1 and $2 per ticket to the Fair Board. Rose told Channel 4 only 100,000 of those were paid tickets. Varney called a emergency board meeting for Monday after realizing the mistake.