NORBERTO SANTANA JR.
Officials with the OC Fair & Event Center, responding to a push for more transparency by its newly constituted board of directors, recently turned over a series of public records — 820 days after an activist requested them.
“Why it took so long is really the question,” said Theresa Sears of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, who has spent the last three years battling to understand how and why Fair Board members conspired to sell off the iconic 150-acre property in the heart of Costa Mesa.
One central document turned over to Sears by OC Fair & Event Center CEO Steve Beazley last week was a $21,070.20 invoice for legal services from former state Sen. Dick Ackerman’s firm, Nossaman LLP.
Sears has been seeking that invoice since December 2009, several months after it was paid. Sears and other activists have spent years piecing together invoices totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars secretly paid to Ackerman’s firm and to county lobbyist Platinum Advisors in recent years.
Those figures directly contradict numerous public statements by Beazley and fair board members since 2009 regarding how much was paid.
None of those lobbying contracts was ever authorized publicly. They were instead channeled through unrelated contracts with LSA Associates, a fairground subcontractor. The firm recently had a contract renewal delayed over questions raised about its role in hiring Ackerman.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ investigators cleared Fair Board members of any criminal wrongdoing nearly a year and a half after initial concerns were raised.
Sears and other activists criticized Rackauckas for not going deep enough in his investigation. After the DA’s probe, billing records revealed by Voice of OC raised concerns that Ackerman had violated the state’s revolving door law by lobbying Sacramento officials on behalf of the Fair Board within a year after leaving the Senate.
The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission launched an investigation, still under way, following the Voice of OC articles.
New members of the Fair Board appointed within the past year by Gov. Jerry Brown — particularly Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association — have been urging officials to release records and operate in a generally more open manner.
“I think it’s time to usher in an era of transparency and improve access to the community,” Berardino said after being appointed last year.
Sears said Beazley had spent years delaying her document requests and bouncing her back and forth between Sacramento agencies that also held copies of the Ackerman billings.
“There is no doubt that there was a concerted effort by Beazley, his staff, LSA, [state agencies] CCA-CSFA and Fair Board members to mislead the public — a complete betrayal of the public trust and total lack of integrity,” Sears said. “We will patiently continue to put the missing pieces together. The saga continues.”
Beazley did not respond to a request for comment.
Correction: A previous version of this article listed an incorrect amount for the invoice from former state Senator Dick Ackerman’s firm, Nossaman, LLP. OC Fair and Event Center officials have indicated that CEO Steve Beazley has misspoke over the past three years when publicly stating the amount of the invoice.