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Headlines for weeks have jarred San Diegans with the news that the annual County Fair may not go on this year because the agency charged with overseeing the Del Mar Fairgrounds is wrapped up in a lawsuit.
A judge concluded earlier this month that the 22nd District Agricultural Association likely rigged a contract it approved in January. Behind that decision, though, is a description of severe misconduct.
Del Mar Fairgrounds CEO Carlene Moore has been accused of rigging the contract in question. Yet she still holds her position and has not faced any disciplinary action by the 22nd District board or the state.
San Diego Judge Kenneth Medel issued a preliminary injunction earlier this month ruling that the 22nd District, a state government entity that operates the Fairgrounds, likely manipulated the contract process that gave carnival operator Ray Cammack Shows the exclusive rights to run the rides and games at the fair, citing indications of “fraud,” “favoritism” and “corruption.”
Moore has not faced discipline for the role she played in allegedly rigging the contract, and the state agencies that are supposed to oversee the District have given no indication they plan to hold it accountable.
The 22nd District operates the Del Mar Fairgrounds on behalf of the state of California. The governor appoints its board members.
The Department of General Services, the Department of Food and Agriculture and the Governor’s office all have some oversight capacity over the agency, and are all aware of the situation, but seem to be passing it off to one another.
The District is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit brought forward by Talley Amusements, another carnival operator that sued the District over the awarding of the current contract to Ray Cammack Shows and a previous contract last year.
Talley alleges the District changed the scores during the 2021 bid selection process to ensure that Ray Cammack Shows would win the contract. Days after Talley formally protested the bid, the District canceled the Request for Proposals altogether.
Months later, the District released a new request for proposals for the next year’s fair, only this time, it included stricter requirements that were not in the previous bid, which effectively excluded Talley Amusements because it did not meet the new requirements.
Talley argued that Ray Cammack Shows was the only bidder in the country that could meet some of the new requirements.
In January, two former employees of the Fairgrounds, former contracts manager Michael Ceragioli and former contracts analyst Jean Fluornoy, both testified in separate depositions that Talley had actually won the bid in 2021, not Ray Cammack Shows, but Moore had the score sheet changed to ensure that Ray Cammack Shows was the winner.
In his ruling, Medel stated that Moore never directly denied claims the scores were changed or that she influenced her colleague to change the scores. He said the evidence indicates the scores were changed and that the District had rigged the qualifications to favor Ray Cammack Shows.
During this entire process, the District board has avoided taking any sort of disciplinary action toward Moore; she remains in her seat as the Fairground’s CEO. There also has not been any indication of an internal investigation by the board or the state.
“It is hard to understand where the 22nd District is coming from,” said John Moot, the attorney for Talley Amusements. “I mean as a responsible agency, when you have the kind of testimony that the judge cites, in his opinion, you would normally put that CEO on administrative leave and conduct an investigation, and the fact that they didn’t do that, in and of itself, is an indication of what’s going on at that agency.”
Monica Hassan, deputy director of the Department of General Services, said the Department has some oversight role over the 22nd District, but not a disciplinary role.
The Governor’s office directed Voice of San Diego to the California Department of Food and Agriculture when reached for comment, adding that Department of Food and Agriculture is the “oversight agency for the 22nd District.” Moore was appointed by the District’s board members, who were all appointed directly by the governor.
“CDFA is currently evaluating next steps,” Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said in an email. “In light of the active status of the litigation, we are unable to comment regarding the recent court finding.”
This lawsuit has been ongoing since 2021, yet the state agencies who are supposed to oversee their own entity have not stepped in.
The District refused to comment on whether there are any pending disciplinary actions for Moore or internal investigations.
“We are doing everything we can to preserve a full carnival midway at the Fair,” said Jennifer Hellman, spokeswoman for the 22nd District Agricultural Association, in an email on April 12. “We are continuing discussions with the involved parties about a modified contract and we remain hopeful that we can reach a meaningful and appropriate resolution very soon. However, we cannot simply hand over the contract to the plaintiffs or anyone else in this case — we must follow a process that ensures that whatever solution we come up with is fair and equitable and complies with the law. We will continue to provide updates as they become available.”