'What's happened ... is bull****': Three SJC fair board members survive recall in raucous Fair Association meeting
CENTREVILLE — In a contentious annual meeting of the St. Joseph County Fair Association Monday that one member said “needed a tent to be a three-ring circus,” three members of the fair board survived a recall effort brought forward by another Fair Association member.
Despite receiving more “yes” votes in favor of the recall than “no” votes in an anonymous ballot vote of the members in attendance, Tony Hochstetler, Gary Clark, and Tricia Ulsh will remain on the fair board after not receiving the requisite 137 “yes” votes out of the more than 270 members of the association.
According to the vote totals, Hochstetler received 93 “yes” votes to 59 “no” votes out of around 150 members in attendance, Clark received 89 “yes” votes to 60 “no” votes, and Ulsh received 90 “yes” votes to 61 “no” votes. Two ballots were reportedly spoiled.
The trio were up for recall in part because of their role in the October firing of former fair manager Missi Tefft.
Monday’s vote came following a lengthy back-and-forth discussion among many of the Fair Association members in attendance, sparked by a request from Association member Ron Weston to recall them, accusing Hochstetler, Clark and Ulsh in a multiple-page speech of not following the bylaws and policies of the fair.
Specifically, Weston claimed in his speech to Association members, the trio had started “verbal altercations” with both fair management and other board members during board meetings and “defamed” the fair with their behavior.
“Arguments were carried from the horse barn to the office, created from deceit and vengeance. These same board members were all heard criticizing the fair and other board members and the manager at local restaurants, stores, other meetings, and even at the fair itself,” Weston said. “All these incidents are violations of the policy manual, not placing the fair above one’s self and not being a good ambassador.”
Weston then alleged that the Oct. 10 closed session, which was unexpectedly called by Hochstetler and where discussion on Tefft’s job status was held, was a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Weston claimed that no motion or vote to go into closed session occurred during that meeting, however a vote was in fact taken after Hochstetler’s request to do so, which was seconded.
Additionally, Weston said none of the three board members gave reasoning for why they wanted Tefft fired, nor were there plans made on how to handle operations after the manager was fired. He also noted no reprimands had ever been given to Tefft for her job performance, and that she received a bonus back in June.
“These three have made this a personal vendetta that reflects terribly on this board, the fair association, and themselves,” Weston said. “All three have committed so many violations against our fair association that this association must protect itself by voting to remove them from the board of directors.”
During discussion prior to the vote, Fair Association member Jim Susemihl said the three board members should be able to answer the accusations made by Weston. However, Fair Board President Keith Bower shot down the suggestion, saying the board members were not able to answer because “we are in discussion right now.” None of the three up for recall ultimately commented during discussion.
Association member Spencer Howe called Weston’s accusations “hearsay” without “one thing of hard evidence.”
“It certainly sounds to me there’s a little bit of personal vendetta coming from the other side,” Howe said to some applause from those in attendance. “It sounds to me like we’ve got a few people out for three people over here.”
Ruth Cornwell, a longtime executive secretary for the fair who was fired in 2021, noted in her comments the irony of the situation regarding her firing and the firing of Tefft, saying the motion and vote to fire her was made at a meeting she wasn’t at.
“Now you guys are turning it around and saying it was wrong for Missi. I’m not saying [Tefft’s firing] was right or wrong, but you have all committed the same thing,” Cornwell said. “I think turnabout’s fair play.”
One of the more heated comments of the evening came from Fair Association member Wendy Guess, who followed Cornwell’s comments by saying the fair board and association need to return to focusing on putting on the county fair rather than focusing on drama.
“Ruth pretty much said what I was going to. But for four years, minus COVID, we’ve done it to Ruth, we’ve done it to Missi. There’s been a lot of hearsay, smirking – and I just saw smirking while Ruth was talking – and it’s not right,” Guess exclaimed. “This association is to take care of the fair. The fair board is to take care of the fair. What’s happened the last four years is bull****. You grew up on this fair, I grew up on this fair. … Our parents didn’t act like this, why are we?!”
Association member Jim Hart said the board and association need to move forward past this situation.
“We need to move forward and quit accusing people of this and that. We need to get together, let’s make a good fair again and we just got to get past this,” Hart said. “It does sound like we’re vengeful on two sides here, and I don’t like that. We just need to go and do what’s right for the fair.”
There was also consternation from some Association members on the recall ballots themselves. A brief outcry from some in the crowd was had when it was revealed the paper ballots were made by Weston, while some wondered what would happen if the recall went through, even though discussion had ended. After the vote, one member brought up that the motion was to recall all three, while the recall ballots had given the recall option for all three individually instead of as a group. Parliamentarian and Association member Jeff Brazo said it was up to the board chair to decide how the vote should be taken, and concluded that Bower determined the ballots were the way to go.
The Fair Association is made up of those who pay a $25 annual membership fee, and whose purpose it is to oversee the fair board.
In other business…
- Three incumbent board members and one newcomer were elected by the Association to the fair board for a three-year term. Incumbents Mindy Timm, Angie Mingus and Barb Weston were re-elected, while newcomer Christina Yunker was also elected. Timm received 137 votes, Mingus received 127, Weston received 108, and Yunker received 93. Other candidates included Kevin Eby, an incumbent, and Ronnie Bauman. Timm said Tuesday that voters could select up to four of the six candidates on the ballot, as there were four spots up for election.
- Association members voted to change the time of their annual meeting to 6 p.m. on the second Monday of November instead of 7 p.m. on the second Monday of November.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or email@example.com.