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Gogebic County appoints additional member to Fair Board


February 2, 2023


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Bessemer — The Gogebic County Fair Board increased in size last week when the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners voted to appoint Randall Kashich of Ironwood as a new member.

Related discussion during that meeting and a prior Personnel Committee meeting also addressed the scope and power of the Fair Board as a whole.

Fair Board Coordinator Marlene Saari had reported that two of the board seats were expiring as of the end of last year and that both of the current members — Holly Ramme and Shelley Suckow — had requested to be reinstated.

However, Kashich and Bill McDonald of Bessemer also applied for the seats, resulting in four applicants for two seats.

In his letter of application dated Nov. 14, 2022, McDonald expressed his strong personal interest, not only in the annual Gogebic County Fair, but also in other such events. “I have attended five to six fairs a year for the past 25 years,” wrote McDonald, who said he also has experience working with carnivals.

“I have the unique ability to raise $ from outside entities and personal contacts,” wrote Kashich in his own Nov. 17 letter last year.

Kashich also included two letters of reference from Tony LaBine and Deborah Brown, each vouching for his previous employment operating an adult foster care facility in Bruce Crossing and doing maintenance work in Watersmeet.

Commissioner James Byrns, who also currently chairs the Fair Board, suggested staying status quo and reappointing the two members that already were serving on the board

However, Commissioner Tom Laabs instead nominated Kashich to the fair board. “He’s the only one that speaks with any sense,” said Laabs.

When discussion ensued as to how to address the current board members who wished to retain their seats, Commissioner Dan Siirila suggested, “We could add another position. We can put as many as we want on there.”

Board Chairman James Lorenson confirmed that county commissioners can decide the set up of the Fair Board. In referring to county rules in relation to the fair board, he said, “It doesn’t say anything in here about length of terms. It doesn’t say anything about the number of members.”

Moreover, he said he believes that Suckow and Ramme have tried to be “very effective board members.”

Commissioner Joe Bonovetz then made the motion to appoint Suckow, Ramme and Kashich to the Fair Board, and it passed unanimously with all board members present.

In addition to Byrns, Ramme, Suckow and Kashich, other members of the Fair Board are Tom Hampston, Melinda Kostac, Linda Nelson and Crystal Suzik.

Regarding Fair Board responsibilities, Siirila said, “The Fair Board is supposed to run the fair, nothing else. I think they’ve done a great job, but I think it’s gotten out of hand. I think that there’s too much going on down there that we don’t know.”

He suggested more checks and balances by the county commission to “get a little more control.”

“The county board and the fair board were never really sure who was responsible for what,” said Lorenson, who used to chair the fair board but is no longer a member. “To some extent, the things that were taken on (by the fair board) were because somebody had to do it.”

But he also added in relation to the county board and the fair board, “I think we need to define what each party is doing.”

He and other members acknowledged such issues such as operating the fair, as well seasonal storage and maintenance.

“We’ve got to try something different,” said Laabs. “I think everything that comes through there needs to come through here.”

He especially criticized the initiative taken by fair board members last summer to gather volunteers to repair grandstands and barns after a private company’s inspection revealed numerous structural problems throughout the fairgrounds.

“In the end, we’re responsible,” he said regarding action taken by fair board members.

“We never really gave any direction,” said Bonovetz. “We really didn’t define things well.”

He suggested developing a business plan regarding the fair board’s role, but first, he said of the members, “We need to have this discussion in front of them and let them have their say.”

He said the board should give them the opportunity to “tell us where we’re wrong.”

Saari, the county fair coordinator, also reported that the fair board is working on an application for a Michigan Department of Natural Resources SPARK grant, with an eye to using what might amount to a $1 million to expand the interests of the fairgrounds.

“A million dollars isn’t going to get very far,” said Siirila, who added that he expected any grant funds received to be allotted for repairing fairground buildings or demolishing those deemed unworthy.

Regarding any desire to expand recreational opportunities at the fairgrounds — as with a proposed equine arena or other ideas — he said, “We can’t afford to take care of what we have.”

Regarding the potential for a SPARK grant, Laabs also reminded, “You don’t get the money first. You pay, and then they reimburse. You better watch what you wish for.”

“It worries me when we start with negative connotations on proposals we haven’t yet heard the terms on yet,” said Bonovetz. “I would like to stay neutral. There are people spending time and money trying to make this work. I give them kudos.”

Lorenson added that county commissioners need to see the formal proposal and actual terms of what the fair board hopes to create.

Both the county board meeting and the personnel committee meeting were held on Jan. 25.


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