Life at 220 Southgate Drive in Sonora seems calm these days.
That’s the address of the Mother Lode Fairgrounds, which not too long ago was compromised by a power struggle between a few board members and the former chief executive officer Stacey Dodge, whose family goes way back in the community and who took the job as almost a mission of mercy after serving on the board for many years.
It was a test of wills between Dodge and board members Peggy Lee and Jan Costa. As with all things, both sides had their legitimate concerns. And Dodge did her best to manage through it all until she felt she couldn’t do it anymore. When she resigned after last year’s fair, she left with a clean audit and a fair that made a bit of money.
In the months since, the board has worked to repair the black eye it received through all the bickering. They have brought in volunteer committees to focus on specific goals such as increasing use of the facility and better marketing.
And they managed to hire a part-time CEO with extensive experience in the fair management world. Ken Alstott, who is a graduate of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions’ Fair Management
Program, spent eight years managing the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in Victorville, followed
by four as CEO of Cow Palace in Daly City. He also served in the U.S.
Army and in law enforcement
in Barstow and San Bernardino County.
All that work set him up with a nice retirement that has allowed him to spend time with his youngest child during her last year of high school.
That’s why he can afford to take a part-time gig that pays about $24,000 a year.
And that’s how Tuolumne County gets someone of his experience to come in and see if he can re-balance a community asset in a time when lots of the ranching and agriculture tradition seems in danger of slipping away.
Speaking by phone earlier this week as he snagged a double cheeseburger at McDonald’s near his home in Southern California, Alstott said what convinced him to take the job was the community.
“I believed in it because the community believed in it,” he said.
In the two months since he’s been on the job, he’s squared the fairgrounds with the various state policies that apply to state-owned properties. A state safety inspection took place last week and turned out well, he said.
Now he and the board are rapidly firming up plans for the fair, which will be held July 7-9.
New acts such as Jeremy the juggler and Skip Banks the balloon man have been booked, Alstott said. Bull riding will be featured on Friday night along with the traditional truck-tractor pull on Saturday and demolition derby on Sunday.
Centerstage will feature more local acts and an interactive kid’s area will be set up.
Looking beyond the fair, Alstott said he intends to book more events like the Unruly Country Festival, scheduled for October to feature BBQ competition and cornhole tournament in addition to country music acts.
Alstott said such events can turn a weekend into a $10,000 moneymaker for the fairgrounds.
With this week’s announcement that the governor had appointed three new members to the board, Alstott has a lot of help in reaching the goals set earlier this year by community members.
Asked what obstacles the fairgrounds has yet to face, Alstott said, “I don’t see anything right now.”
Let’s hope that prediction holds.