22nd DAA works to improve openness

DEL MAR — Efforts to improve transparency at the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which operates the Del Mar Fairgrounds, are moving forward, but changes will not be dramatic or overnight, according to a subcommittee formed to address the issue.

New board members David Watson and Lisa Barkett said they are discussing systematic options to more openly inform the public about 22nd DAA actions.

“We don’t want to recommend wholesale changes of how everything is done,” Watson said at the Dec. 13 meeting.

They both agreed the first change should be to the website, which they described as “impossible to navigate.”

They also want board members listed and the best way to contact them added. Barkett said she would like the home page to be more social-media conscious.

“I know there’s a lot going on here,” she said, noting that “meaty” items such as the master plan for future fairgrounds improvements and recent criticisms from the California Department of Food and Agriculture should be easier to find.

If information on the website is for the public to view, it should be easier to navigate, Watson added.

“The more business that can be conducted publicly, the better,” he said.

Since June, Gov. Jerry Brown has replaced five of the nine members on the board of directors.

Three of them — Watson, Tom Chino and David Lizerbram — already held a public meeting Dec. 8 to discuss a report from the Department of Food and Agriculture that questioned several board actions, including the process for tracking dining expenses and employees who have cashed out some of their vacation pay.

“More transparency is a goal of mine,” Watson said. He added that he is not opposed to receiving suggestions for more ways to achieve that objective.

A vow to increase transparency could become more important in the future as the Brown administration is discussing a possible change in the way agricultural associations are governed.
The state recently cut about $30 million in funding for fairgrounds. It’s been suggested their governing bodies switch to a nonprofit classification to allow for more fundraising opportunities.

That new status could affect transparency as nonprofits are not necessarily required to respond to public requests for information, nor are they bound by open meeting rules.

“That would be a concern … especially (on) the impacts and interactions with the community,” Solana Beach City Manager David Ott said. “We want to be involved in that.”

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