Floor vote postponed on giving control of TN State Fair to politically-connected group

Legislation giving permanent control over the Tennessee State Fair to an association founded and headed by Republican 6th Congressional District candidate John Rose was halted on the House floor Monday evening after a Monday morning report on the measure in The Tennessean.

The measure (HB2483, as amended) by Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) and Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) had already cleared committees in both the House and Senate. The scheduled House floor vote was postponed indefinitely by sponsor Holt, who is a member of the board of the Tennessee State Fair Association, without comment.

From The Tennessean report:

Holt said the purpose of the bill is to install more state agriculture-focused groups and leaders on the commission.

But the proposal comes after the Tennessee State Fair and Exposition Commission last summer voted unanimously to begin looking outside Nashville for a new site to hold the annual Tennessee State Fair after this year’s event in September.

The event has taken place at the Fairgrounds Nashville for the past 112 years, but attendance has struggled in recent years and the fairgrounds is set for a major makeover with the future addition of a Major League Soccer stadium.

As part of the move last year, the commission agreed to begin a new search for an operator for the fair.

Rose, a former Tennessee agriculture commissioner, formed the non-profit Tennessee State Fair Association in 2011. His organization — formed to promote agriculture, horticulture, the creative arts, and performing arts — has operated every state fair since then, but his contract is set to expire after this year.

…. On March 27, when the full House agriculture committee took up the measure, Holt offered a late-filed amendment.

The rewritten legislation did two main things. The first component would the makeup of the commission from nine members to seven, eliminating the commission chairman Bo Roberts, Jim Forkum, a former Metro Nashville councilman, and Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson. It would also remove the commissioners of the state departments of tourism and economic development, who currently serve on the nine-member panel.

The legislation would (also) create a new commission (with the chairman of the Tennessee State Fair Association as one of the seven members and)…  make the Tennessee State Fair Association — of which Rose serves as the chairman — the sole operator of the annual fair.

…”The whole intent is to get the stakeholders involved with the direction and the future of the Tennessee State Fair,” said Scott Jones, manager for the Tennessee State Fair, speaking on behalf of Rose. “The Tennessee State Fair Association is a nonprofit, and it is comprised of all stakeholders across the state, and we welcome everybody to have a part in producing the fair.

“That’s the main purpose. It’s for the state to really be involved and for all stakeholders to have skin in the game to produce the best state fair possible.”

…Holt admitted that because he’s on the board of directors of the Tennessee State Fair Association he would not vote on the measure.

“Is there foul play here? No,” he said. “There’s simply a desire to make two boards that work together and have worked together for now a series of years … continuity.”

When the bill was discussed in the Senate State and Local Government Committee on March 28, Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, asked the bill’s sponsor — Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin — if the state fair association was in favor of the measure.

“Yes, they brought this bill,” Haile said.

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