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Umatilla County Fair moves forward without manager, hoping for more volunteers in transition year

Operations staff for the Umatilla County Fair will look different during the 2017 fair than in years past.
Jade McDowell

East Oregonian

Published on March 16, 2017 12:01AM

Last changed on March 16, 2017 10:03PM


The change in venue for the Umatilla County Fair has come with a shift in staffing, too.

The county commissioners laid off the fair’s manager and maintenance head last fall and talked about having staff at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center staff run the fair. But the operations plan for EOTEC that the county commissioners and Hermiston City Council will jointly review Monday does not include giving fair management duties to EOTEC’s yet-to-be-named general manager.

Larry Givens, a county commissioner who also sits on the EOTEC board, said the county does not plan to hire a new fair manager.

“We’re staffed now up to what we’re going to staff it,” he said.

That includes administrative assistant Angie McNalley and activities and sponsorship coordinator Cyndie Driscoll, who was hired for the new position in late 2016. Both have an office at EOTEC but are not EOTEC employees.

Givens said since the county fair will merely be a tenant of EOTEC — albeit an anchor tenant with a $25,000 per year lease — EOTEC staff will handle maintenance of the new fairgrounds. If the current staffing structure turns out to be wrong, Givens said the county will look at what changes may need to be made.

“We have not had the fair and rodeo at that EOTEC site, so there will be adjustments as we go through that process,” he said.

Gay Newman, chair of the Umatilla County Fair board, said the first year at the new fairgrounds will “probably double” the workload for fair board members, staff and volunteers. But once they figure out how to adapt to the new location, Newman said being a tenant at EOTEC should save them time and effort.

The old fairgrounds in the center of town have caused a lot of headaches for fair staff and board members as they try to shoehorn as many things as possible into a space that the fair outgrew long ago, then get electricity and water everywhere that needs it and keep the failing infrastructure together.

“It will actually be a little easier for us, because we don’t have to worry about ‘oh, there’s not enough power, there’s not enough water,’” Newman said. “Having power and having room to move things around without being on top of each other, that’s what we’re excited about.”

He said groups like 4-H are also excited that exhibits will be inside an air-conditioned event center.

The move to the new venue also comes with some challenges, however. Newman said right now volunteers know exactly how certain halls and barns are set up, but the new space means the fair will be starting from scratch on figuring out a layout for everything. They also won’t know how many people will be needed to keep all the bathrooms stocked and cleaned, or where foot traffic will be heaviest.

He said that Knerr Construction and Hendon Construction are “going to town” on the project trying to get it done as soon as possible, but the fair board still can’t count on a for-sure date when construction will be wrapped up enough to start the set-up process.

“Is construction done soon enough we can do it, or are we going to have to scramble to get a lot of people in to do things at the last minute?” he asked.

Driscoll is working hard to get sponsorships and also figure out everything from how many tents they will need to how many feet of fence will be needed around the entertainment areas, Newman said, but an increase in volunteers will be important to help the move up to EOTEC go smoothly this year.

“We would more than appreciate any help we can get,” he said.

He said the fair board is confident that construction will be finished in time for the 2017 fair, but they also know the first year could be a little rough as things come up that no one had taken into account.

“I’m excited and nervous,” he said.

The Umatilla County commissioners and Hermiston City Council will meet in a joint work session Monday at 6 p.m. at EOTEC to discuss the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.



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