The nine-member board will vote Oct. 24 on an Orange County district attorney’s office request to waive the privilege it had with the California attorney general’s office, the group’s legal representation until late 2009. The fairgrounds now uses private counsel.
The D.A.’s chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, would not comment on or confirm her office’s request. She also would not comment on the D.A.’s acquisition earlier this year of a condemning report by the Fair Sale Review Committee that questioned the proposal to sell and privatize the 150-acre, state-owned fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
The committee was a 12-member independent group authorized by the Fair Board. It included a former police chief.
The group’s 17-page report, released in January, called for a forensic auditor, more review of the sale attempt and plans to ensure that the fairgrounds loses its state attorney general legal representation.
Two Fair Board members, Chairman Stan Tkaczyk and Nick Berardino, indicated Thursday that they would support relinquishing attorney-client privilege. Neither was on the board during the fairgrounds sale attempt, which began in 2009 as a measure to raise funds for the state and ended by July 2011 amid fierce public debate and legal challenges.
At hand are “issues that need to be resolved,” Tkaczyk said. “They’ve been out there. Until they’re resolved, this book will not close.”
Berardino called the decision the “kind of thing that has to be evaluated very carefully and taken seriously by our board.”
“I think, generally, waiving attorney-client privilege is not something that groups should generally do, as good practice,” he said. “But in terms of one law enforcement agency wanting to talk to another law enforcement agency, that kind of thing really should be done. Any governmental body shouldn’t put an artificial barrier in that kind of discussion.”
Theresa Sears, a fairgrounds activist who served on the Fair Sale Review Committee, said the D.A.’s earlier investigation into the proposed sale — in October 2010, the D.A. found no conflict of interest or violation of state open-meeting laws — was sorely lacking.
“There are so many details that the D.A. needs to look into,” she said. “I’m very anxious to be able to work with them, if they’re willing to have the citizens who worked on this participate. It’s a big deal.”
The review committee didn’t have legal authority, such as subpoena powers, but from what information it did have, members found issue with some $7 million to $8 million paid to the fairgrounds by the now-defunct California Construction Authority, among other concerns.
The report states that Sears asked former fairgrounds CEO Steve Beazley about the payment, and he replied that the funds were to “safeguard them from the state.”
The committee also questioned work done by former state Sen. Dick Ackerman‘s law firm — a fact that was not disclosed at the time.
During the Fair Board’s January meeting, when the fair report was issued, board member Dave Ellis was critical of its content, calling portions of it “speculation,” “conjecture” and overtly biased.
“There was a narrative, and y’all stuck to the narrative, and you neglected a bunch of chapters in your book,” he said.
He added that he felt a nonprofit or investment management firm might “better and more efficiently” run the property.
Sears said she and others are eager to hear answers, and that the inquiry “should have happened several years ago.”
“We’re going on four years,” she added. “I mean, that’s a lot of years.”