Against the wishes of many Metro officials, Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill into law that authorizes the state government to oversee a new commission that would operate the annual Tennessee State Fair.
A Haslam aide said Monday the governor had signed House Bill 3208, a measure that could pave the way for the 106-year-old event to transfer from Metro’s hands to the state while also enabling its relocation outside Davidson County. The move came despite the concerns of the Metro Council, which had approved a nonbinding memorializing resolution that asked Haslam to veto the legislation.
“It sounds like they’ll create something at the state-level doing what we’ve been doing since the 1920s,” Metro fair board chair Ned Horton said regarding the governor’s decision. “They will be responsible for holding the fair every year.
“The next piece to answer will be: Will the fairgrounds be the place where this event takes place?” Horton said. “There’s a lot of people who will want to see that happen.”
Metro attorney Susan Jones, who provides legal counsel for the fair board, did not immediately respond to a voice mail seeking comment on the law. The Metro Department of Law had decided to withhold its legal opinion on the legislation until the governor officially had signed it.
The newly signed law authorizes the state agriculture commissioner to appoint a state fair advisory commission that would oversee the fair’s operations. Pushed by the Tennessee Farm Bureau and Tennessee State Agriculture Department, the measure seemingly allows a group of state tourism and agriculture leaders known as the Tennessee State Fair Association to act as this new state fair commission.
In what Horton acknowledged might be the Metro fair board’s final vote involving the state fair, commissioners finalized a prior agreement last week for the Tennessee State Fair Association to operate the 2012 state fair. This same entity played an identical role last year, and will again hold the event on the 117 acres of city-owned fairgrounds property off Nolensville Pike.
Though the new law allows the state fair commission to determine the fair’s future location, John Rose, who chairs the Tennessee State Fair Association, told The City Paper last week there is no intention to move the state fair outside of Davidson County in the years ahead.
“All parties want and believe it should be in Nashville,” Rose said. “I think everyone involved at this point has a pretty keen understanding that the current Tennessee State fairgrounds is far and away the most likely and the most desirable place for that to happen.”
Rose said the Metro fair board has in the past concluded that the state fair would be best served having state government involvement “to make it a true state fair.” He added: “I think this is just a logical step in that direction.”
Critics of the law, however, fear a move outside Nashville could be down the road. Metro officials have also questioned the manner state lawmakers passed the measure after engaging in little communication with the city.
Others have pointed out that Metro owns the naming rights of the “Tennessee State Fair.”
“It’s disappointing that the state has taken copyrighted property from the city of Nashville without consulting them or compensating them,” said Metro Councilman Duane Dominy, who had led the appeal for Haslam to veto the legislation. “That’s a scary thing here in Nashville.
“The thing we need to do is make sure the interests of the city of Nashville are protected,” he said.
Horton, the Metro fair board chair, acknowledged there are still many “unanswered questions” related to the law. He also pointed out the fair board is about to begin the creation of a new master plan to study the long-term operations and uses of the fairgrounds property.
“Hopefully, there’s a bright future for the fair,” Horton said.