Longtime Washington County Fair director let go over ‘communication breakdown’

The 2016 Washington County Fair, Hurricane, Utah, Aug. 10, 2016 | File photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

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.”

Washington County Fair royalty at Peach Days parade in Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 1, 2018 | File photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

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.

File photo of the Washington County Fair, Hurricane, Utah, Aug. 12, 2015 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

“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.

Read more: Washington County survey seeks public opinion on how to improve county fair

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.

Fair goers participate in a chicken sandwich-eating contest sponsored by Chick-Fil-A at the Washington County Fair, Hurricane, Utah, August 8, 2014 | File photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

“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.

Demolition Derby at Washington County Fair 2013 in Washington County Regional Park, Hurricane, Utah, Aug. 10, 2013 | File photo by Jeremy Crawford, St. George News

“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.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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9 Comments

  • Redbud December 20, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Good riddance! This is a blessing to all. Changes have needed to happen for a while, thank goodness she’s not in a position of authority over the fair anymore! Out with the old, in with the new!

    • iceplant December 21, 2018 at 3:31 am

      You clearly didn’t read the article. Fake outrage much?

      • Redbud December 21, 2018 at 10:14 am

        I actually did read the article, and I stand by my comments. Moving the fair to May is an excellent idea! Maybe you should stick with your fake CNN news.

        • iceplant December 21, 2018 at 12:08 pm

          Your jubilant celebration was a bit much. This is standard county procedure. Don’t do what is asked of you, you lose your job. I fail to see what you’re celebrating other than someone losing employment. That’s not too cool.

          • Redbud December 21, 2018 at 1:08 pm

            I was simply stating my opinion. Standard county procedure? Ok, that’s obvious. (Yes you lose your job if you don’t do as told.) Duh. Good job Sherlock. I’m celebrating the good changes that will come to the county fair, not necessarily the job loss. She’d still have a job right now if she had done what was asked. I have more sympathy for people who get let go for no good reason. Based on the article, seems like the opposite is true.

          • iceplant December 21, 2018 at 1:24 pm

            whatever you have to tell yourself, champ.

  • Kilroywashere December 21, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    Redbud read the article. Redbud has an opinion. Frozen veggie makes a mountain out of molehill. I agree with Redbud. The last article in SG News, not too far back about the fair and public feedback to make it better, I posted a siimilar comment, along with others, that the reason I didn’t go was due to excessive summer heat the time of year it has been held. So I agree with Redbud ,as I am sure many others, moving to May is a great step in the right direction. So what’s your problem Frozen Veggie? Who cant take the boxing gloves off ? Oh that’s right Redbud supports our current President. Forgot. Lol. Maybe it’s the poor contractor, she should run the fair forever and no one else gets a chance. Ok, maybe she’s a friend, who knows. She has been at it for decades, so maybe it is time for new blood. Once again I find myself agreeing with Redbud, that evil out of his mind Trump supporter.

    • Redbud December 21, 2018 at 10:06 pm

      I attended the demolition derby at the end of the fair one year, and the metal stadium seating was sooooo hot you could barely sit on it. We had water, lemonade, wore hats, and we were still sweltering in the heat. I tolerate hot weather rather well, but a young woman sitting next to me started blacking out because she was suffering from heat stroke and needed medical attention. I could tell everyone was hot and uncomfortable, and other people near me were also expressing their wishes about moving the fair to cooler weather. Infants, small children, and the elderly suffer the most, and I felt bad for them too. It would be a million times more enjoyable in cooler weather, and there would be higher attendance too. Many of my neighbors didn’t even bother going because it was too hot.

  • utahdiablo December 21, 2018 at 10:22 pm

    Too damn hot in August, move it to May or October Fall break ( the excuse for the August date was so the kids can attend )

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