Geauga County: Still no answers in steer dispute

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SALEM, Ohio — The stepsisters who used their 4-H steer calves as walking billboards to protest the way the Geauga County fair board is handling the discovery of drugs in last year’s champion still don’t know if they’ll be allowed to participate in the 2008 fair.

Lindsey Ferguson, 16, and Christen Braat, 18, showed up with their parents to the Geauga County fair board’s Feb. 21 meeting for answers, and left, along with the approximately 30 others who attended, after being shut down by a fair board statement.

“The Geauga County Agricultural Society considers the [Adams] issue closed and will not discuss it any further. … As for the Ferguson steer painting issue, our legal counsel is handling this matter directly with legal counsel for Mr. Ferguson. Therefore we will make no further comments at this time,” board president Howard Bates read.

What happened

The girls painted the words “drug-free” on two of their 4-H steers for tag-in Dec. 2, 2007, to express their opinion against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in food animals and to advertise their own animals as drug free, according to their attorney, Nancy Schuster.

The fair board called it “making a mockery of the junior fair steer club” and punished the girls for their actions, requiring them to write a letter of apology to the board and to every steer club member.

Schuster said the girls didn’t send the requested letter of apology, and that they don’t intend to.

Schuster said the girls’ actions are protected by the First Amendment and the Ohio Constitution, and that “the board’s decision to squelch this speech is illegal and insults those 4-H members who believe that inappropriate substances have no place in their lives and that the rules of the Geauga County Fair Board apply equally and fairly to all.”

Not changed

The board said if it didn’t receive the letter from the girls by Feb. 10, they would not be allowed to exhibit at the 2008 fair, according to David Ondrey, an attorney representing the fair board.

“The fair board has not changed that decision,” Ondrey said.

“If the Fergusons are unwilling to accept that, it’s their decision what to do about it.”

Double standards

Clark Adams’ sister, Andrea, admitted to department of agriculture investigators she injected her brother’s grand champion project with an anti-inflammatory drug, but did not disclose it on mandatory paperwork filed with the fair.

Ferguson and Braat painted their steers to protest the fair board’s reaction, which included ordering Adams to return his ribbons and trophies and a portion of his premium check.

Several of the club members and Ferguson supporters at the Feb. 21 board meeting expressed confusion with the fair board’s handling of the situation.

They questioned the intent of the board’s rule, printed on animal entry blanks in the fair’s entry book, that said if “… any livestock drug rules have been violated, the exhibitor and/or exhibitor’s family shall be barred from showing in any future Geauga County Fairs” for a minimum five years.

To date, Clark Adams has not been banned from showing at the 2008 fair.
David Ondrey said the fair board maintains that rule isn’t applicable in the Adams champion steer situation.

“[The rule] was for open class as opposed to the junior fair exhibitors. Even if it could be argued that rule was applicable to junior fair exhibitors, I don’t believe the county fair can impose that punishment unless the Ohio Department of Agriculture imposed it first.”

The ODA order called for disqualification of the Adams steer, along with the forfeiture of awards, prizes, premiums or proceeds earned.

“It may be one of the ambiguities that no one’s ever going to be able to completely satisfactorily answer,” Ondrey said.

ODA spokeswoman Melissa Brewer said Ohio Revised Code gives fair boards authority to make their own policies, but the agriculture department doesn’t oversee those rules or their enforcement. County fair boards are in charge of seeing that their own rules are enforced, Brewer said.

Related

Clark and Andrea Adams had also been ordered to write letters of apology to the fair board in order for Clark to be able to show his 2008 project steer.

David Ondrey said he didn’t know whether those letters had been written or received.

Related coverage:

Ferguson backers create petition (1/17/08)

Champion steer exhibitor’s sister admits role in livestock tampering (1/10/08)

Champion steer positive for steroids (12/06/07)

Geauga Co. steer under investigation (11/08/07)

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