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Commissioners dissolve Montana State Fair Advisory Board

Montana ExpoPark (July 2021)
Posted at 1:06 PM, Oct 01, 2021

GREAT FALLS — In what could certainly be described as a contentious Cascade County Commission meeting, commissioners on Friday unanimously voted to dissolve the State Fair Advisory Board.

Commissioners said this was not an easy decision, but felt they had no choice.

Speakers did not hold back Friday morning as they expressed to commissioners their opposition to dissolving the State Fair Advisory Board.

First to speak was the board's now-former chair, Leanne Hall.

"I'm truly shocked at the lack of professionalism that I've seen over the past few years when it comes to county government. The reports say that there is tension between us and the commissioners. Yes, there has been conflict, but now your answer is to do away with the group that volunteers their time and really all we have done is ask questions and present ideas. To me, that's really sad,” said Hall.

Hall and several others outlined their frustrations with commissioners.

Hall claimed board members were scolded for talking to vendors at the fair, trying to get to know them, and vendors were scolded for talking to board members.

Leanne Hall

"I'm really disappointed that you would consider passing this resolution because it just means you're doing away with the board because you think we failed. But I believe the failure is on the commissioners' part to work with the citizens of Cascade County,” said Hall.

Next to speak was the board's now-former vice chair, Corey Thompson.

"Shortly after I was selected for the advisory board in June of 2019, I was given a piece of advice from a previous board member. His advice was 'Don't ask any real questions. They don't want us here for that.' I would soon find out how accurate that advice was,” Thompson said.

Thompson's frustrations include what he claims was the Expo Park staff undermining the board's productivity at meetings and not accurately recording in the meeting minutes what was said.

"What may be my last piece of advice for this commission, specifically to Commissioners Larson and Ryan, is to leave the ExpoPark Advisory Board intact and take action on the many past motions of advice years of advisory boards have been giving you,” Thompson said.

Commissioner Don Ryan, who had been working with the board to address the rift between the board and commissioners, admitted he had not been successful.

"There's a perception by some people on the Fair Advisory Board that they're not listened to. They were listened to. One of the other problems was that, for some people -- and it was exposed in different cases, we thought (because of) conduct they should not be board members. Rather than expose those people and make a point out of them and picking out problems and that kind of stuff, I think it's best that we disband this board and start over,” Ryan explained.

Commissioner Jim Larson praised Ryan for his efforts.

"Mr. Ryan did the yeoman's job trying to repair this. It didn't work. As I read through the information that we have here, I would be in support (of dissolving the board),” Larson said.

The ExpoPark executive director will now pick representatives from different parts of the fair, such as Ag exhibitors and food vendors, to report to them and the director will serve as a liaison for the board.

The county website provides this overview of the board:

The State Fair Advisory Board serves as an advisory board to the County Commission and the State Fair management on matters relative to the operation of the State Fairgrounds and conduct of the annual State Fair. Board members should expect to commit approximately five hours per month throughout the year and at least several hours per day for the eight days of the annual fair. Board members are expected to:
  • Represent interests that best serve the overall operation of the State Fair
  • Work with Fair management in establishing shows, contests, policies, rules, fee schedules and contracting services and entertainment vendors to conduct operations for the Fair
  • Work with Fair management in planning construction priorities and assist in consulting architects, planners, and engineers in developing actual construction documents
  • Assist in preparation of capital construction budgets and annual operational budgets
  • Promote funding by communications with legislators, commissioners, and other funding sources
  • Promote image and attendance at the State Fair and use of Fairgrounds facilities
Experience or interest in civic groups, 4-H and FFA organizations, agri-business functions, and communications with available media is helpful.