By Ryan Berry
GREENVILLE — The Darke County Agricultural Society’s Board of Directors (fair board) has not received support for the plan they set forth at their regular monthly meeting on Feb. 1. The committees for two of the species they were trying to help, swine and goats, have held meetings and approved motions to oppose Phase 1 of the project.
Phase 1, as it currently stands, would erect a 60’x200’ open-sided steel multi-species show arena in the area that once was home to the Dog House and dog show arena. This is the area between the Goat Barn and the Beef & Dairy Pavilion. The plan approved by the fair board intended to use the new show arena for cattle (beef and dairy) and goat shows. The current Swine Barn would continue to house swine and the Cattle Show Arena would transition to host swine shows.
According to Jason Manning, fair board director, this information was discussed at the board’s February meeting. However, it was not discussed in open session. The decision was made after the board emerged from executive session. The board went into executive session for “legal and personnel.” The topic of the barn proposal would not have fallen into either of those purposes. According to Ohio’s Sunshine Law, chapter nine of The Ohio Open Meetings Act (pgs. 119-120), personnel reasons must be stated, such as to consider the appointment, employment dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion or compensation of a public employee or official or to consider the investigation of charges or complaints against a public employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual, unless the employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual requests a public hearing. The only allowed reason for an executive session for “legal” is to discuss pending or imminent court action with the public body’s attorney. The attorney for the Agricultural Society was not present at that meeting.
Manning also shared that he took information he received from a couple of representatives of some of the species to the fair board’s Focus Committee where the issue was discussed. By law and according to The Ohio Open Meetings Act (chapters 7 and 8), committee meetings are required to be open to the public and advertised, with only a few exceptions. A meeting notice was not sent to The Daily Advocate/The Early Bird regarding the committee meeting.
The original plan called for the hogs to temporarily occupy their current building and a large Swine Barn and Community Center to be built on site of the former dog show arena and Goat Barn. The goats would then assume the current Swine Barn for their home. Numerous factors, including COVID and fundraising not reaching its intended goal, put the project on hold. Escalating costs eventually played a role in why the project was not completed as intended.
On Wednesday, the swine committee discussed the proposal, donations that have been made and ideas that would make the board’s proposal more tenable.
Six fair board members were present, Manning, Greg Pearson, Craig Bowman, Dean Neff, Heidi May and Russ Skaggs. With a majority of the members present, the board, as a public body and according to Ohio’s Open Meeting law, was required to publish this as a meeting, which was not done.
Members of the swine committee expressed their disapproval of using the Cattle Show Arena because of the incline/decline the hogs would need to traverse between the Swine Barn and the arena. If the open-sided barn were to be built for this year’s fair it was suggested the proposed show arena could work, but foot traffic would need to be curtailed on the road between the barn and the arena. Plus, there could also be issues with erecting temporary gates and the road being a fire lane.
Some committee members asked the board to take a step back and develop a plan to move forward and not to rush to build something just to show they are working on the issue. Phase 3 of the project would tear down the goat and sheep barns and could be a multi-species barn. However, one swine committee member suggested it would never happen and likened it to having the same chance of building Disneyland on the fairgrounds.
The fair board must determine how to build a community center and begin the process before the end of the year due to funds received from a state grant. The board has already spent approximately $200,000 on a water project. The city of Greenville threatened to cut off water to the fairgrounds if the project was not completed. $300,000 remains for the purpose of building a community center. The board is currently working with the state to see what projects are acceptable.
There was a suggestion to continue with a form of the original project but leave it open-sided and finish the barn as funds become available.
One suggestion was to turn the current Swine Barn into a community center since the infrastructure was put in place when the building was built.
Another suggestion was to have an engineer with livestock expertise come and determine which barns are best suited for which species. Essentially taking the placards off the buildings and using the buildings for whatever works best. However, with donors giving funds for specific items, such as fans, gates, show rings, naming rights, etc., it may be difficult to switch species around from year-to-year.
To free up space in the Swine Barn for this year’s fair, it was suggested the board move 32 pens outside the barn at the south end of the cattle barn and build a partition. This would allow for wider aisles, tack storage and the show arena could continue to be in the Swine Barn. The swine department would continue to need to limit the number of hogs that could be brought to the fair.
If Phase 1 and Phase 3 of the project are altered, the board may also have to revisit Phase 2, which has been approved as the new dog show arena and community center.
A swine committee member asked, “What does our discussion tonight do for the motion you already passed?” The board agreed they could amend or rescind the motion. Many of the directors took notes and suggested they could do a work session or special meeting to discuss the information brought to them by the swine and goat committees.
To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected]