Two weeks into his duties as interim CEO, Ken Alstott says things are on track for “a very good fair this year” even after last fall’s firing of longtime CEO Dave Kegebein and the resignation of both Alstott’s immediate predecessor and the chair of the fair’s board of directors. There’s no fixed timeline to name a permanent CEO, though having one in place for this year’s Santa Cruz County fair, set for Sept. 13-17, is a goal.
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The past six months have been tough for just about anyone who lives in Santa Cruz County, but it’s been especially difficult for the staff, volunteers and community patrons of the Santa Cruz County Fair.
On top of the punishing weather of the past winter, the fair has had to endure some more metaphorical storms. Last October, the fair’s longtime CEO, Dave Kegebein, was dismissed by the fair board, and since then, several board members have resigned or been replaced. The fair’s interim director also resigned amid rancorous and confrontational board meetings and anger and upset in the community.
In the wake of all that chaos, the board recently appointed a new CEO. And, according to that new appointee, the storms are over and clear skies are ahead.
“You’ll have a very good fair this year,” said Ken Alstott, who’s been on the job for about two weeks. “The fairgrounds are going to look beautiful.”
Alstott, a veteran of state fair management who was appointed to replace outgoing director Kelley Ferreira on April 25, hosted a gathering of local media at his office at the county fairgrounds outside Watsonville on Wednesday. He said that there is no reason for locals to expect anything different or unusual about this year’s fair, to take place Sept. 13-17. In his first weeks on the job, Alstott has been making sure that food vendors, entertainers and others involved in the fair are moving through the process to get their contracts settled with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which oversees the state’s county fairs.
“That stuff has already been put in motion,” Alstott said, “and now it’s just about getting those contracts done and out to people.”
Though Alstott is new to Santa Cruz County and was unfamiliar with the local Fair when he was hired, he has served as director at the San Bernardino County Fair, the Mother Lode Fair in Sonora and at the Cow Palace in Daly City. A former law enforcement officer in Southern California, Alstott now lives in Tennessee. He said he plans to spend every other week in Santa Cruz County until his interim term is over.
The fair is currently accepting applications for a permanent CEO to replace Kegebein, who was fired in October at the behest of the CDFA when an audit revealed he had been lax in following procedures in accounting for expenses. Many in the community have protested Kegebein’s firing, and the controversy led to the resignation or removal of four board members, including board chair Don Dietrich, who resigned in April. Alstott said he is not a candidate for the permanent position. Other than perhaps training a new director after he/she is hired, Alstott said he will have no role in that hiring.
There’s no fixed timeline to name a permanent CEO, though having one in place for this year’s fair is a goal.
The fairgrounds is still serving as a relief center for those displaced by the March floods of Pajaro in Monterey County. Alstott said that he expects the relief center to close by the end of May.
Each year, the fair is sustained by dozens of volunteers, some of whom have been confused or demoralized with the fair’s ongoing dramas. Alstott has been reaching out to many in the volunteer community. As to the message he wants to get across to those in the community who have volunteered or otherwise supported the fair in the past, he said, “[They should know] that the fair is happening. And we would appreciate you volunteering again, and coming forth. And feel free to pick up the phone and let us know if we haven’t reached out to you yet.”
Previous Santa Cruz County Fair coverage
FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated to reflect the county fair’s timeline for hiring a permanent CEO.