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Fair staples up in the air


Last updated 6/2/2020 at 4:05pm

CLOVIS — One way or another, Curry County commissioners agreed Tuesday, there will be a county fair to celebrate the skills of residents young and old.

Some fair staples like concerts and carnivals, however, will remain up in the air for about a week.

Following around 45 minutes of spirited discussion about state public health orders on mass gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic and prioritizing the fair’s various elements, the commission voted 5-0 to still feature the Junior Livestock Sale and its associated shows, plus any public exhibits including but not limited to ag mechanics, horticulture, baking and arts and crafts.

As part of that motion, commissioners plan to decide by June 10 the fate of fair entertainment, including concerts, midway performers and the carnival.

Kadee Hande, manager of the county fairgrounds and events center, said governments across the country were having similar conversations about fairs, but Curry is dealing with what it has designated as its 100th anniversary celebration for Aug. 11-15.

“We’re not scared to host a fair,” Hande said. “Our staff is excited and always working hard to create events.”

She countered that she has a duty to be fiscally responsible and it would be a financial challenge to hold a fair with its various expenses should public health orders limit mass gatherings to 100 or 250 people and hamper attendance. Last year’s fair drew 29,353 people, with 24,181 admissions paid at varying rates and the rest entering via assorted vendor and exhibitor passes.

Also, Hande is unsure if most citizens will either feel safe going to the fair or have the disposable income to attend. But she said whatever commissioners decided, “we are happy to represent the Curry County Fairgrounds.”

County Manager Lance Pyle said in conversations with the state tourism department, it’s his understanding that if infection rates stay low the state’s third reopening phase will allow mass gatherings of up to 100 people in July. When asked by commissioners, Pyle said he has inquired about a fourth stage and has not received details.

No commissioner suggested a complete cancellation of the fair, and Commissioner Robert Thornton said his phone rang nonstop following a Sunday preview of Tuesday’s meeting by The News. He believes a scaled-back fair should include not only a livestock sale, but any other exhibit.

“They’re putting their blood, sweat and tears and money into this, and they need to be recognized,” Thornton said of Curry County youth. “The kids who do the flowers and the quilts, those are things those kids work on all year. Our fair should recognize that and we should figure out how to get it done. I can understand if we can’t have concerts and we can’t have a carnival. We need to look out for our kids and our agriculture any way we can.”

Commissioner Chet Spear drew a contrast to weekend protests across the state over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and how Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised protesters who weren’t all socially distancing and weren’t all wearing face coverings.

“You cannot have it both ways,” Spear said. “You cannot support and encourage mass gatherings of protesters while denying New Mexico communities the opportunity to hold traditional events.”

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval said he felt like commissioners were preaching to the choir, and should focus on discovering what they can do instead of talking about what they want to do.

Without getting too political, Commissioner Seth Martin said, he felt it was important to recognize the county fair was a need while “entertaining the masses” was a want.

“Entertaining the people of Clovis is low on my priority list,” Martin said. “Making sure children get the attempt to show their animals and their goods is a high priority and should be of all of the commissioners.”

Commissioners also noted the mass gathering numbers shouldn’t apply to the fairgrounds as a whole, but individually to five separate buildings and arenas where events would be held.

Spear asked Hande when a drop-dead date would be for the contracts she has in place with fair acts, and was told mid-June. Spear then asked if June 10 was a fair deadline to make a decision, and Hande agreed.

“Nobody wants to cancel the fair,” Spear said. “In reality, it’s something we may have to do. I am not for canceling the junior livestock side of the fair. That’s important to this community. We are the livestock and agriculture capital, and we need to keep that going.”

Martin said although Thornton has done an exemplary job representing the fair board during commission meetings, he would like to have at least one board member present at the next meeting to get their input and recognize their work.

“I can get as many of them as you want,” Thornton said.

Curry County hosted its first fair in 1912 and established a fair board in 1920. Newspaper records show the county did not host fairs from 1931 through 1950 due largely to funding issues.

In other business at the Tuesday meeting:

• The county named detention center maintenance technician Phillip Jones its employee of the year and Chief Deputy Assistant Assessor Randa Jesko its supervisor of the year.

“It was a real task picking one over another,” said Spear, who served on the selection committee. “Curry County needs to feel blessed we have so many good employees, not just the ones who were nominated for employee and supervisor.”

• Plains Regional Medical Center Administrator Drew Dostal updated commissioners on the pandemic, and believed the area has “dodged a bullet” so far with just three hospitalized COVID-19 patients and an appearance nationwide that the virus is subsiding.

He noted the hospital policy will still require masks, and they’re not advertising antibody testing because there’s not enough evidence they prove immunity.

The hospital has kept its employees paid throughout, and trained many of them to do other things while their primary responsibilities were shelved due to the pandemic. He noted other hospitals did put employees on furloughs and, “some of those people don’t come back.”

• County Assessor Candace Morrison presented her office’s revaluation and maintenance plan for the upcoming year. New housing and commercial permits are at 79 and 10 so far this year, compared to 65 and five at the same point in 2019.

When asked if the county had seen any dropped property values due to water contamination, Morrison said one dairy has had its property value changed since last year, and there have been no protests on the matter this year.

• The next meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 10.


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