Metro Councilman Duane Dominy, the sponsor of a bill that would preserve the Metro-owned fairgrounds, has organized a special council meeting to “discuss the recent operating history of the state fair.”
Dominy, who represents parts of Antioch and is a Republican candidate for the District 59 state House seat, asked for the meeting earlier this week in a letter sent to Councilwoman Vivian Wilhoite, who chairs the council’s Codes, Fair and Farmers Market committee. Wilhoite said she was already planning such a meeting when Dominy made his request.
The meeting is scheduled Nov. 9, and will include appearances from Tennessee State Fair Executive Director Buck Dozier and fair board chair James Weaver.
In his letter, Dominy claims to have reviewed the last 12 years of operating history of the state fair and suggests that the financial record of the last three years — which coincides with Mayor Karl Dean’s tenure — has been disproportionately poor compared to the previous nine years.
“The state fair has sustained losses ... during the last three fiscal years totaling $2.5 million,” Dominy wrote. “These extraordinary losses are over three times the amount of shortfall for the previous nine years.
“The modest losses between 1999 and 2007 are explained, in part, by certain capital expenses paid from the operating income such as ADA compliance retro-fit and an interior sprinkler system,” Dominy continued. “There is no similar capital costs associated with the losses for [the last three fiscal years].”
Asked for his response to Dominy’s claims, Weaver pointed out that the fair had years of declining attendance prior to 2007 and reminded Dominy that the fair is an “enterprise fund” that receives no tax-dollar support from Metro. Weaver also cited the string of bad weather that plagued recent state fairs, including the heavy rain that hurt attendance in 2009.
“Almost four years ago the fair board began work on an analysis of the future of the fairgrounds,” Weaver wrote in an email. “We went into this process after years of declining attendance at the fair, ever increasing competition from the Wilson and Williamson County fairs, and mounting losses from our operations.
“Our losses were due to numerous factors — most of which were not ours to control,” Weaver said. “While our staff worked very hard to make an old and antiquated facility cash flow, Buck [Dozier] can’t, despite all his ecclesiastical connections, control the weather.”
Weaver said he and Dozier are “glad” to bring their data before the council next month.
“I know some are questioning Councilman Dominy’s sudden interest in our long-standing and documented problems based on the proximity to Election Day. I am not,” Weaver said. “I welcome the opportunity to talk about this topic with the council.”
In related news, Dominy has apologized to Councilwoman Sandra Moore for filing his fairgrounds bill without giving her proper notice. Moore represents the neighborhood that surrounds the 117-acre fairgrounds.
“I should have asked you to co-sponsor the bill with me prior to introducing the legislation,” Dominy wrote in a letter addressed to Moore. “I didn’t do so because the bill, to me at least, dealt with the duties and responsibilities of the [fair] board and I believe this is a countywide issue.”
The bill, deferred by the council on Tuesday at the request of Moore, will be picked back up on first reading in two weeks.