ST. GEORGE — The longtime director of the Washington County Fair won’t be returning next year due what one County Commissioner has described as a “communication breakdown.”
Wendy Sandberg, who has been involved with the county fair for 30 years and has been its director since 1997, issued a press release to St. George News detailing how she says she was “forced out” of her long-held position.
Sandberg said she was notified by the County Commission Dec. 10 that they wouldn’t be renewing her contract for 2019. She pointed to a difference of opinion with Commissioner Victor Iverson over the future of the fair as a reason for her dismissal.
The news came in the wake of a meeting between Iverson and Sandberg in September. Sandberg said she thought the meeting was going to be an assessment of the 2018 fair. Instead, Sandberg said that Iverson, who is the commissioner assigned to oversee the county fair, came into the meeting with “a list of mandated changes” to be implemented for the 2019 fair.
Sandberg said she did not agree with the changes and where they would take the fair in the future.
“Some of the changes were to move the fair dates to May, bid out the carnival or have none at all, (and have) no theme other than ‘Celebrate Washington County,’” Sandberg states.
Sandberg said these changes are what made her consider retiring as fair director after a final year.
“I knew I couldn’t be the fair director forever so this was a good time to leave and let someone else implement the changes,” Sandberg said. Sandberg nonetheless recommended that she stay on for one more year with a replacement shadowing her, an idea Iverson appeared to favor, according to the press release.
However, at the time Sandberg learned her contract wouldn’t be renewed, she was unaware of any replacement being considered.
“This is very scary to me because the fair director should already be working on the following fair starting heavily in January with a kick-off meeting with the fair board in February,” Sandberg said. “It is a full time job if it is done right.”
News of Sandberg’s termination came at around the same time the county issued an online survey asking the public for feedback about potential changes to the fair. Thus far the survey has garnered around 1,500 responses, and it concludes Friday.
Sandberg told St. George News that she felt the county was asking for public input on changes that will be made regardless of the survey results. They are changes she said she does not want to be associated with.
“When I looked at those changes, they didn’t make sense,” she said.
Sandberg’s yearly contract with the county is worth $28,000, according to documents provided to St. George News by the Washington County Commission. She is listed as an independent contractor who gets paid within 10 business days of the “successful completion” of the county fair.
The role of fair director, as outlined in the contract, is to act as a liaison between the County Commission and the volunteer county fair board, as well as to provide advice and consultation to both parties.
Sandberg was contracted for the position based on her “special knowledge, expertise, contacts and experience” involving the fair, the contract states.
Iverson, who spoke with St. George News Tuesday, echoed the reasons outlined in the contract as to why Sandberg had been at the helm of the fair for so long.
“Wendy Sandberg has done an excellent job with the fair,” Iverson said, commending her passion and leadership. However, the County Commission still chose not to renew her contract for 2019, he said.
As to the September meeting, Iverson said he presented proposals for the fair’s future rather than set-in-stone changes.
“There was some discussion about the fair and the future ideas for the fair,” he said, adding that “there was a communication breakdown” over the proposed changes that persisted beyond the September meeting. However, Iverson declined to go into further detail on the matter.
“Communication (with the commission) is an important part of the contract,” Iverson said.
With that aspect of the contract seemingly compromised, the County Commission decided to part ways with Sandberg, he said.
In addressing potential changes to the fair, Iverson said the commission would be “cautious” moving forward. It has yet to review the results of the online survey, he said.
The county also has no intention of getting rid of the carnival component of the fair, Iverson said.
As for the county fair board, Iverson said the commission is in the process of asking board members what they want to do with their positions. He said discussions about who will direct the fair next year are also in the works.
Iverson once again acknowledged and praised Sandberg’s work in previous years.
“We believe Wendy has done a lot of good for the county.”
Sandberg joined the county fair board in 1989 and played part in moving it to the county fairgrounds in 1997. Under her direction, the fair has grown to became one of the county’s biggest summer events, drawing in around 40,000 people annually.
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