(This article is an update about a shake-up in leadership at the North American International Livestock Exposition, published online Aug. 10 and in print Aug. 13. The story has been updated to reflect the Aug. 14 hiring of a new executive director of expositions.)
SALEM, Ohio — A back-and-forth debate over what to do about managers ousted after recent, sweeping changes to the North American International Livestock Exposition has one insider comparing it to a “three-ring circus.”
The ruckus, however, led Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to offer an honorary title to one of the long-running leaders.
Former expo executive committee chairman Jack Ragsdale was removed from his position as a result of an executive order June 23, one of several moves that caught longtime leaders off guard and garnered a swift and vocal backlash.
On Aug. 12, Beshear offered the title of “director emeritus” to Ragsdale, according to Roger Thomas, executive director of the governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy and a newly appointed member of the Kentucky State Fair Board.
The new title came after the North American executive committee lobbied for Ragsdale’s reinstatement, as well as that of two other former managers, at an Aug.11 meeting with state officials.
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The uproar started after Beshear’s June 23 order expanded the membership of the Kentucky State Fair Board and officially appointed the state fair board president as the chairman and general manager of the NAILE.
The move essentially consolidated what had been two positions — removing longtime supporter Ragsdale as executive committee chairman and leading to the resignation of Corinne Fetter. Fetter had managed the North American, the Kentucky State Fair and the National Farm Machinery Show for 15 years.
Harold Workman, who had been assisting as vice chairman, a position not specifically mandated in Kentucky statutes, was also not asked to return. He had worked with the expo since its founding in Louisville in 1974 and had been the previous state fair board president.
State officials said the changes had to happen to help keep leadership consistent and to address long-running operating losses.
The governor’s moves caught many expo leaders off guard, and left them worried the North American, set for Nov. 3 through 20 this year, would falter without veteran leadership.
Founded in 1974, the North American began as a beef show and expanded to include seven species. Billed as the “world’s largest purebred expo,” it had more than 29,000 entries last year, draws more than 220,000 exhibitors and visitors and brings an estimated $16.1 million into the local Louisville economy annually.
“At the moment, we’re up against a time crunch to get everything done,” said Dennis Liptrap, one of the expo leaders who has worked with the event for 40 years.
To solve that quandary, at the Aug. 11 meeting, the expo’s executive committee approved extending contracts to Workman and Fetter, in order to bring them back on board to help manage the expo.
Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe, state fair board president and now the expo’s chairman, chief executive officer and general manager, isn’t making any promises though. In an interview with Farm and Dairy Aug. 12, he said any offer to Workman and Fetter would likely be more of an volunteer advisory position.
Workman could not be reached for comment.
When reached by phone Aug. 12, Fetter said she had not been contacted with an offer yet.
“It’s a matter of what the details will be,” she said. “Hopefully, they will decide to extend an offer, and hopefully, it will be soon, because time is of the essence.”
Fetter declined to comment on whether or not she would consider a volunteer position.
What was decided?
The Aug. 11 meeting included the executive committee, Rippetoe and Roger Thomas, who, as executive director of the governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, is a newly appointed member of the Kentucky State Fair Board.
The executive committee approved the proposal “unanimously,” said Joey Pendleton, executive committee member and head of the dairy advisory committee. In Aug. 12 interviews, he and Liptrap said they were optimistic about the result, especially with the 2015 event approaching.
“It’s not the time you bring a novice in when you’re headed to the World Series,” said Liptrap, who is the head of the swine advisory committee.
The executive committee is an advisory board, Rippetoe said. Although he said he is willing to negotiate with Workman and Fetter, the result may not be what the committee expects. “I’ve invited (Workman and Fetter) to be involved from the very beginning,” he said.
While he acknowledged they command a lot of industry respect, Rippetoe reiterated he is now general manager of the North American, by executive order. “It may well be that they serve as volunteer advisers,” he said.
When reached Aug. 13, Pendleton said there is confusion between what the committee members believed would be done after the meeting and how others in attendance interpreted the proposal.
“It’s like a three-ring circus,” he said.
The exact language of the motion by the committee was not immediately available. Calls to the Kentucky State Fair Board were not returned before press time.
The show will go on
Between the North American, the Kentucky State Fair — which begins Aug. 20 — and the National Farm Machinery Show, Fetter said the combined economic impact is around $50 million annually.
Fetter gave her notice July 1. Although the executive order only affected one of the shows she managed, she said she couldn’t continue in her role.
“The way the North American is structured, they made it impossible for me to do my job,” she said. “Changing the leadership, they made it impossible.”
Hundreds of people are involved, mostly volunteers who do it because they care about the North American, Fetter said. “So much of that show is built on relationships.”
On Aug. 14, the fair board announced the hiring of Steve Kelly, a Kentucky cattleman, as executive director of expositions, effective Sept. 16.
Rippetoe and Thomas said the changes that have been made weren’t out of character with the history of the North American, especially since Workman is Rippetoe’s predecessor.
The expo will continue and will continue to grow, Rippetoe and Thomas said.
According to a news report, the Aug. 11 meeting grew heated at times as committee members expressed their frustration with the process. Rippetoe told Farm and Dairy he is encouraged by their commitment.
“I’m reassured about the passion of the people and their desire to see the show grow,” Rippetoe said, adding: “It’s not about a change here, a change there, it’s how do we continue to grow agriculture … across the country?”
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Just how much are these people getting paid? I think that is an important piece of information. Most people including myself volunteer to help out our fairs and spend a great deal of our own money out of our love and respect for agriculture and our future generations. We have known for years that not only are people losing interest in agriculture, but they are attacking it-fairs are all losing money and turning to non-ag related interests to bolster attendence- which does NOT mean it helps agricultural shows/exhibits. That is a separate topic altogether..