Volunteers with the group Save Our Fairgrounds took to legislative plaza Tuesday to say not all organizations are getting a fair chance to bid on operating the Tennessee State Fair. They claimed a newly formed commission has too many ties to the group that's operated the fair in recent years.
"We've had concerns with the Tennessee State Fair Commission and Tennessee State Fair Association, how they are intertwined," said Shane Smiley of Save Our Fairgrounds.
Smiley said the Tennessee State Fair and Exposition Commission has major conflicts of interest. He pointed out the Tennessee State Fair Association, which has operated the fair in recent years, has four members on the commission that decides who will run the fair.
"Those state commissioners sat on both boards simultaneously when they took the vote for TSFA to operate the Tennessee State Fair in 2011 and 2012," said Smiley.
Also at issue is a performance audit released by the comptroller's office on the Department of Agriculture. The audit says, "Grants awarded by the department to the Tennessee State Fair Association were paid prematurely without sufficient documentation and involved a conflict of interest between department management and the association."
"We ultimately received all the documentation and those grants were made properly, eventually under our procedures," said Tom Womack of the TN Department of Agriculture. "We have taken steps to make sure an approval process is made in grants of any type."
Womack added commission members resigned from being volunteers with the TSFA so there would be no conflicts of interest.
"They were there to advise the association as board members and received no compensation for it," said Womack. "Their interest was just in seeing the state fair continue."
"Even though they stepped off the Tennessee State Fair Association, they're still founding members of that organization and were named to the commission by the legislation they themselves helped draft," said Smiley.
Save Our Fairgrounds volunteers also claim organizations haven't been given enough time to bid on operating the fair this year with a request for proposals put out this month and interest papers due Tuesday.
"It's not giving anyone else a chance to bid," said Smiley. "It's right here at the holiday season. Someone had three and a half business days to prepare for the 2 p.m. deadline today."
"We consulted with the comptroller's office on the RFP process," said Womack. "It's consistent with state guidelines on RFPs."
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