DOUGLAS — For the first time, Wyoming State Fair decisions will be made by a diverse board, with representation from groups all around the state.
“I think this change is long overdue, but it’s better late than never,” Sen. Brian Boner, R–Converse, said.
Per the parameters set by the state legislature, 13 voting members sit on the board, as do two ex-officio, non-voting members – Gov. Matt Mead and Bret Hess, dean of the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture.
As outlined in WS 11-10-115, Gov. Mead appointed nine members, with one representative coming from each of the following groups: Wyoming State Parks and Resources, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Tourism Board or a representative of the board, the energy industry and an at-large individual representing agriculture.
“He (Mead) sought the input of folks who have a great interest in the Wyoming State Fair,” Mead’s Chief of Staff Kari Gray said. “He worked hard to appoint a board that was as committed as he was.”
The governor also selected a representative from each of Wyoming’s four agriculture leadership quadrants. Quadrant heads serve six-year terms, while other board members serve for four years. According to the board member selection description, individuals should represent a cross-section of the agriculture industry and primarily work in ag. Counties within quadrants must rotate. For example, the governor could not appoint an individual from Campbell County to consecutive six-year terms as a quadrant representative.
Converse County is unique in that it selects its own board member. This appointee is separate from the quadrant rep (Albany County’s Vicki Haley represents the southeast quadrant, which includes Converse County, this term). Back in August, the Converse County commissioners and Douglas City Council chose Joe Rankin for Converse County’s board seat.
Rounding out the board, the vocational agriculture association selected a member from within its ranks, and the dean of the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture chose a representative from the Wyoming cooperative extension service. The director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Doug Miyamoto is also a voting member. The parameters of the state fair board selection refer to this appointment only as “the director.”
Sen. Boner is excited about the new board, and sees it as a positive change.
“As it was before, we were expecting a lot from the employees there and the Department of Agriculture, which is fundamentally a regulatory agency,” Boner said. “They didn’t really have the expertise to accomplish what everybody expects from them, so just having the office of tourism on the board, or the business council on the board, is going to be a tremendous help, in addition to the private sector experience.”
Boner also said he approves of the Governor’s Office selections.
“I think the governor’s office did a great job of selecting people from all walks of life,” Boner said.
Former Wyoming State Fair director Barney Cosner said he feels the board selection process wasn’t as transparent as it should have been. For instance, he noted that the final board was published late and that the Governor’s Office didn’t sufficiently publicize the application process.
“I think they were very lax in getting the process out in front of people,” Cosner said.
Kari Gray highlighted that Gov. Mead sought the input of a wide range of groups with interests in the fair, and said she believed the process was properly transparent.
Cosner also said that ag could have been better represented, but still believes the change to the board is a good move.
“The intent is something I hope is very, very beneficial to the long-term well-being of the state fair,” he said.
The Wyoming Department of Agriculture will have less control over the fair than it used to, but says it’s looking forward to the new process.
“We’re excited to work with the new board, move forward and work on some positive changes,” said Wyoming Department of Agriculture Public Information Officer Derek Grant.
Boner said that, in the past, the state fair turned away volunteers, and he hopes that the new board will find ways to make use of those who have an interest in giving their time to the fair.
“Before it was just this very archaic, bureaucratic structure that could just tell people to go away and there’s no consequences,” Boner said. “Now that we have more representation, we can press that issue.”
The state fair has seen large, fundamental changes in recent years. Boner says this is a step in the right direction. “We do have some difficult challenges in front of us with the fair, but this is the beginning of making things better and making sure that the fair comes closer to meeting everybody’s expectations,” he said.
The Department of Agriculture has not yet set a date or location for the first state fair board meeting.