Those involved in fairgrounds project should face public scrutiny

The county commissioners laid out in April 2014 a resolution on how they intended to proceed with the development of the county farm.

That resolution clearly indicated intent to use a county board or commission to oversee the development of the county farm. The commissioners never followed through with establishing or making any appointments to the commission or board.

Instead of forming the board right away, an “advisory committee” proposed by Commissioner Tom Stevens was established and appointed in April 2014 for the purpose of carrying out some of the preliminary tasks and making recommendations to the commissioners going forward.

In this way, the “advisory committee” with Councilman Kent Fisk and Commissioner Tom Stevens at the helm, was able to basically take over control of the initiative without any formal approval from the county.

Council member Jim Shelby, at the joint meeting of the commissioners and council in December 2014, stated that the X-Plex group looked at three concepts on how to proceed, and the not-for-profit corporation was the only choice that would not obligate the public and that can take from private investors, avoiding using taxpayer money.

This “advisory group,” then, on its own, without the approval of the county commissioners or public knowledge, took it upon themselves to incorporate as a private nonprofit corporation.

As a private corporation, the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corporation (HCECC) is exempt from complying with Indiana’s open meeting and access to public records law.

In 2014, a group made up of interested citizens of our county visited several area fairgrounds in Hamilton, Hendricks, Boone and Henry County.

The executives from these sites clearly indicated their fairgrounds had little if any impact on increasing tourism.

Even after more than a year of being asked by both Commissioners Armstrong and Huber, the HCECC has yet to come up with a workable business plan.

If a lease is signed, the commissioners are then recognizing the HCECC as a legitimate executor of public money.

During one of the days at the 2015 county fair, the Constitution Committee asked this question of fair-goers, Which are you in favor of?

New fairgrounds: 36 supported, 19 opposed

X-Plex (exhibition, convention, hospitality center): 17 supported, 35 opposed

New fairgrounds + X-Plex: 16 supported, 30 opposed

In July 2015, the HCECC held public meetings on the new fairgrounds; no public questions or input were allowed at that time.

Questions could be submitted and would be addressed later by email. Here are two of the 35 responses.

1. How much will it cost to run, and where will the money come from?

Answer: There will be a need for private, corporate and public funding sources. Once the project is completed, the majority of the operating funds will be provided from event revenues.

2. Why are there commissioners and council members on this board? Is there a conflict of interest since they may vote on using county funds to pay for this?

Answer: They are responsible for the county farm property that is the proposed construction site for the project and therefore have an obligation to represent the best interest of the citizens in regards to what happens to the property.

As elected officials, Fisk and Stevens have a fiduciary responsibility first to the public.

That interest might now be challenged because they will also act on behalf of a corporation (Fisk is the board president and Stevens, vice president) that potentially seeks funding from the public on a project that has a price tag of $40 million-plus.

The Hancock County Tourism Commission has already provided this private corporation $50,000 in taxpayer funds to pay the costs of a consultant service’s master plan.

Just recently, the county council voted 7-0 to increase the innkeepers tax 1 percent, (against the advisement of several of the hotel managers) in the hopes of putting approximately $75,000 a year toward the X-Plex construction and ongoing yearly operational costs.

With a letter signed by all the Commissioners and county council, the HCECC has approached Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, to introduce at the current legislative session approval of an additional 1 percent increase in the food and beverage tax to generate additional monies intended for their exclusive use.

We have to ask ourselves on what would taxpayer voluntarily choose to spend their money? We must decide which projects to pursue and not pursue.

When politicians spend money, they are spending other people’s money. Why not let the people decide this issue by referendum?

I believe the original intent of relocating and building the 4-H Fairgrounds is justified.

Individuals overseeing and operating this project need to be scrutinized.

Martha Vail of Charlottesville is a member of the Hancock County Tea Party. She can be reached at