The two Santa Cruz County Fairground board members who voted against firing former CEO Dave Kegebein at an Oct. 4 meeting were removed from their positions on Friday in abrupt phone calls from the governor’s office.
Because the county’s fairgrounds are state-owned, members of the Fair Board are appointed by the governor. A representative from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office did not return a call for comment until press time on Tuesday.
Loretta Estrada, who has held the seat for 34 years, and Jody Belgard, who has held it for 16, received late afternoon calls from a woman who told them the news before hanging up without further comment .
“She said, ‘The governor has decided to go in a different direction,’ and hung up,” Estrada said. “She didn’t even say thank you for 34 years of service.”
Still, Estrada says she wasn’t surprised by the call after she and Belgard voted not to fire Kegebein after an audit showed, among other things, that he used a credit card issued by the company. ‘state to buy fuel for his truck, which he used for his work at the fair. It was not the purchases themselves that were at issue, but the fact that he failed to issue receipts to the state.
Estrada says she planned to step down at the Oct. 25 meeting. His concern now relates to the future of the establishment.
“My direction has always been to improve the fairground and make it beautiful,” she says.
Belgard says she was expecting the call, explaining that the “no” votes were in defiance of California Department of Food and Agriculture officials who attended the meeting.
Belgard pointed out that Kegebein worked without pay for two years as the fairground went from near bankruptcy to financial stability – it had revenues of $4 million last year and a reserve of 1. $75 million, according to Kegebein’s estimate. He served as the facility’s CEO for a decade before his firing, which was questioned by a number of people in South County, including 4th District County Supervisor Greg Caput.
In a news release Friday, the governor’s office said Watsonville Parks and Community Services Director Nick Calubaquib and California School Boards Association Public Affairs and Community Engagement Representative Rachel Wells had been appointed to fill the positions.
Don Dietrich, who took over as CEO following Kegebein’s firing, said he was surprised by the state’s actions and said he didn’t know why it happened.
He says the past two years have been “tumultuous”.
“My focus right now is to get the fairgrounds on the right track and moving forward because it’s a huge resource for the community,” he says. “And we will continue to provide a resource for what the community needs.”
The Fair Board was due to discuss recruiting a new CEO at the October 25 meeting