Thursday, October 23, 2014

What is fair board hiding?

4/14/2014

My name is Kim Powell. I have been the Franklin County 4-H rabbit project leader for nearly 20 years. I did take a break and then resumed the role after six years.

My children grew up in the 4-H program and were very active in their projects, as well as all the Franklin County fairs. While they were showing at the Franklin County Fair, the 4-H program was supported by the Franklin County Agricultural Society (Fair Board) members. There always has been an issue of the small animal projects not receiving the same respect as the large animal projects. Franklin County is an agricultural area and, basically, if it does not have hooves, it is not as important as the projects that involve hooved animals — specifically, cattle and hogs. That has been the way it has been for as long as I can remember going to the fair. But, everyone knows it and accepts the reality of it.

My name is Kim Powell. I have been the Franklin County 4-H rabbit project leader for nearly 20 years. I did take a break and then resumed the role after six years.

My children grew up in the 4-H program and were very active in their projects, as well as all the Franklin County fairs. While they were showing at the Franklin County Fair, the 4-H program was supported by the Franklin County Agricultural Society (Fair Board) members. There always has been an issue of the small animal projects not receiving the same respect as the large animal projects. Franklin County is an agricultural area and, basically, if it does not have hooves, it is not as important as the projects that involve hooved animals — specifically, cattle and hogs. That has been the way it has been for as long as I can remember going to the fair. But, everyone knows it and accepts the reality of it.

On March 18, the 4-H county/district leaders for the rabbit, dog, horse and shooting sports projects received an email from the 4-H extension agent stating that our groups would no longer be allowed to bring animals into Celebration Hall at the Franklin County Fairgrounds for our meetings and training sessions (obviously, they do not bring horses in the building), and shooting sports will no longer be allowed to shoot in the building. This was a complete shock to the leaders and the children involved in the projects. In the rabbit, dog and shooting sport projects, learning about your project requires hands-on experience. The children cannot learn about these projects by pictures alone. To learn what the proper texture and density of fur is on rabbits and dogs, you have to feel it. Showmanship skills require hands-on learning in both dog and rabbit. There is no other way to learn about these projects without an enclosed building to protect the kids and animals from unpredictable Kansas weather, in addition to needing a place with no outside distractions to teach and learn.

The Franklin County Agricultural Society voted to no longer allow these projects a safe, enclosed building. The leaders were not informed this issue was even going on and were not allowed to speak and present our thoughts on the matter. While they might publish the meeting dates of the board, they do not publish the agenda for the meetings. I have written to Justin Webb, fair board president, to inquire about the suddenness of this decision and the lack of involvement of the 4-H group in this decision. I asked for alternatives at the fairgrounds. I requested the minutes of the meeting and the bylaws of the society. I requested names and terms of other board members. I asked if they receive county tax money and if they have to report to the county commissioners. Webb has not responded to my requests in any way. I have received no return email, no letter, no phone call. Several 4-H parents also have contacted Webb, as well as several other board members, and they have had the same response ... none. No one on the board will return calls, letters, emails. Why are they hiding? Why won’t they discuss the decision they made that affects so many children in this county? Why won’t they turn over the minutes of their meetings and by-laws. They are legally required to follow the Open Meetings Act law of the state of Kansas. Why will they not send this information to residents who have requested the information? Again, what are they hiding?

I am not asking them to do anything but explain their position and offer our projects a reasonable alternative for our meetings to continue with the animals allowed. The only alternative offered in the letter we received was to use the open ground or the arena. If you have ever tried to begin training a dog outside, you know every little distraction interferes with the learning process. That doesn’t even take into account that a lot of the dogs being trained are rescue dogs that are being trained for the first time, and if they get loose, it will be very difficult to catch them. The same is true for the rabbits. Rabbits, by nature, stress easily and are more easily handled in a quiet, enclosed structure. If you have ever tried to catch a rabbit, you can imagine what would happen if a rabbit was accidently dropped on the ground. It would be impossible to catch them in the open. As you can see, just from an animal standpoint, meeting on the open ground or the arena is not reasonable. Add in weather, wind, traffic noise and the fact there is no restroom for the people meeting there to use. How is this a reasonable alternative?

The other issue the board voted on is that now all 4-H groups that use Celebration Hall are required to leave a $50 cash deposit that the board will decide if it will be returned after they check the building for clean up after the meetings. In the past, they have never charged 4-H groups to use the building, so, now, it is a sudden jump of $0 to $50 deposit. We have no problem leaving a deposit for the building, but $50 seems extreme. Most 4-H groups cannot afford that. Yes, they say you will get it back if you clean up after, but, based on past experience, this board might decide not to return the deposit. The Rabbit Club kids have been accused of not cleaning the building good enough in the past even after we took pictures that showed the condition of the building when we got there and pictures when we left, and we left it significantly better than we found it. We even have pictures of the trash we removed that was labeled “Franklin County Agricultural Society.” Their group did not clean up; we followed them and cleaned up their trash, but were accused of leaving the building dirty. The idea of a deposit is not really an issue; the issue is the amount of the deposit and whether they will decide to return it or not. They did not state what the time frame was they would hold the deposit.

On April 7, we received another email from the extension office to “remind us” we can still use the building. We understand we can still use the building as long as we supply $50 cash that we might or might not get back and cannot bring our animals there. In the letter, we were again reminded that Celebration Hall is the main “money maker” for the board. Who do they think is going to support their fair if they deny 4-H members a place to learn about their projects? If 4-H’ers are not comfortable with their knowledge, they might choose to not show at the fair. If the 4-H doesn’t show at the fair, the parents will not be spending all that money on food and other things at the fair. This same board voted to not allow FFA members to exhibit at the Franklin County Fair. If the FFA can’t exhibit and the 4-H are discouraged from learning and feeling confident enough for exhibiting, who will be attending the fair?

It is my opinion that this Franklin County Agricultural Society Board is causing damage to public relations and especially to 4-H members with their personal agendas. It is poor policy to change things without discussing changes needed with all the parties involved, especially when the parties involved are children. It is very poor policy to refuse to return requests for information and to refuse to acknowledge correspondence from community members.

I am sure my letter will not change any of the board members’ minds, but I do feel the public at large should be informed about what is going on at our county fair. I am just wanting to be able to sit down and come up with a solution that will benefit the kids and their projects. If the building needs an overhaul, maybe the different 4-H groups can help raise funds or even supply some labor. The board owns the former animal shelter, why can’t it be renovated to have a place for the kids to practice with their animals? I don’t have any answers because the board members will not return my calls, emails, or letters. I am sure this is not what was intended by our Founding Fathers when they first decided to have a fair and rodeo in Franklin County.

Did you know that Franklin County has the longest running continuous county fair and rodeo in the state? The actions of this board make me question how long this will be true. The actions of a few are having a very negative effect on the future of 4-H and all youth projects in our county and the support of the “agriculture” part of our county is in danger.

 — Kim Powell,

Princeton

comments powered by Disqus