Decision on county fair delayed until after Parson’s anticipated June announcement

‘It is not going to be a normal fair’

By Dave Marner, Managing Editor
Posted 5/27/20

A final decision on holding the Gasconade County Fair will have to wait until Gov. Mike Parson makes his anticipated early June announcement about the state’s next phase of reopening.

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Decision on county fair delayed until after Parson’s anticipated June announcement

‘It is not going to be a normal fair’


A final decision on holding the Gasconade County Fair will have to wait until Gov. Mike Parson makes his anticipated early June announcement about the state’s next phase of reopening.

Fair Association board and committee members meeting Thursday in Owensville opted to table any final decision until hearing what the governor’s next step will be. However, Fair Association leadership appear prepared to go ahead with this year’s event at Memorial Park but cautioned it could certainly have a different feel than before.

Jeff Arnold, the city’s emergency management director and fire chief, was in attendance and shared his observations of daily conference calls he participates in with state and local health and emergency management officials and the governor’s cabinet.

“The governor can loosen,” Arnold told the group of 35 Gasconade County Fair Association members gathered in the fair’s exhibition hall at Memorial Park about restrictions imposed at the state level. “The county health department can tighten. I really don’t see that being an issue right now from what I heard today.”

He said he expects the county agency to continue to stress social distancing measures throughout the summer.

Arnold said the governor’s next phase of loosening restrictions was previously scheduled to begin in early June.

“They’re not going to have anything tighter than the state,” Baxter said of his recent discussion with county health officials. “They’re not going to tighten up any more.”

John Kamler, Owensville’s mayor who also helps with entertainment committee activities during the fair, shared that municipal mayors also have authority to set local restrictions during a declared state of emergency but he didn’t see that being a factor with the fair.

“The mayor can do more,” Kamler said, but added, “I don’t plan to.”

He was asked why, then, are there still restrictions on the use of city park facilities. Park equipment, such as playgrounds remained closed, he said, due to concerns about sanitizing the structures. Same with bathrooms.

The city’s water park is opening June 5 with limitations on occupancy numbers.

Arnold added that the fire department plans to hold its picnic and fireworks display July 3 and they hope to have activities including the peddle tractor pulls, turtle races, and Lions Club Bingo games if current health trends and low COVID-19 infection rates continue.

Barb Feagan, co-chair of the food services committee, expressed concerns about pavilion seating during the social distancing aspect of food service during an event like the fair. However, her main concern, she said, was finding volunteer help and keeping them safe.

“We can’t keep our people in the kitchen 6 feet apart,” said Feagan. “Food is not our problem. It’s our volunteer help. Some of the businesses are not letting their people work the fair. They’re not taking that chance.”

And, she added, “We can’t get enough volunteers right now.”

President’s firm stance

“We won’t cancel except for some mandate,” said Nick Baxter, president of the fair association’s board of directors. ‘‘We’re not going to cancel the fair unless someone tells us.”

He said he’s been in contact with every vendor and contracted service provider involved with the fair and all are ready to help stage the 2020 event.

“I’ve talked with everybody we work with and they’re all on board,” Baxter said.

Sandy Stockton handles entertainment for the fair and she said she spoke with their entertainment consultant who assured them their contracted performers were ready to put on their shows.

Fair board members were told of contractual language which states the fair is responsible for paying entertainers if the Fair Association cancels the event. If a state, county or city mandate prohibits staging the fair, then the Fair Association is not responsible for paying the contracted artists.

“If the county or city cancels, we’re fine,’’ said Stockton.

Baxter read from a printed sheet explaining “force majeure” concluding, ‘‘if the government mandates canceling, or the artist doesn’t perform, it’s a cancellation.”

If the Fair Association cancels, however,  “We’d end up paying some,” Baxter added.

Although the Fair Association is not out of any money for entertainers to date — they’re paid at the fair when they perform — three nights of live music typically costs around $90,000, according to Kamler.

Baxter said the “sound and stage guys are ready to go. We’ve talked.”

What remains to be determined, he said, was which scenario of a fair they will have this summer. Will it be a full fair? Or possibly a partial fair? A livestock-only exhibition fair?

‘‘We’re just riding it out right now,” he said. “We’re just working every day with the information we have available. Everyone I’ve contacted is on board.”

Committee reports

The queen contest committee is already advertising for contestants for the scholarship pageant. Amy Baumhoegger with the Little Mr. and Miss Gasconade County contest said they were waiting to see what the final decision would be before seeking contestants.

Tom Lahmeyer, who chairs the lower field committee, reported the arena events had promoters ready to stage their productions. Bull riders and barrel racers are running events in the south with social distancing right now. Truck and tractor pulling contestants and demolition derby drivers “want to run,” Lahmeyer reported. “I think everything down there is a go.”

Baxter said the carnival people are on board with stops in Belle and California scheduled around Owensville.

Brenda Kurrelmeyer, chair of the budget committee and the association’s treasurer, noted there was little activity regarding advanced ticket sales besides a few purchased as Christmas gifts which is common. There have been no new sales since, however. “People are scared,” she told the group.

Shyla Baxter reported they’ve had the typical booth rental and request for sign placement “right off the bat” that they normally see during an election year.

Feagan said there is a food vendor offering a three-day cancellation notice for the order period without penalty as long as the fair orders from their list of food stocks.

“The problems is going to be the volunteers. Unless they drop the social distancing, this is going to be a way of life,” Feagan told the group, reiterating her earlier comment.

Vicki Weidner, chair of the food services committee, noted they could expect a 10-percent increase in food costs for protein items and fairgoers should expect a simplified selection of menu items. Already they do not anticipate serving roast beef sandwiches—burgers only for red meat options.

“We’ve already figured we’d have to simply it,” Feagan said. “The food is the least of your worries.”

Deadlines for ordering

Several questions on timing of a “go-no go” decision for the fair came into play during the association’s 90-minute meeting.

Deadlines are approaching for ordering supplies such as soda from Pepsi. A June 11 deadline is in play. The fair catalogue being printed locally by LSC Communications goes to press June 6 and that’s with a deadline extension. Pre-press work was scheduled to be completed by at least June 1. There’s a $4,000 cost for that work and the fair has advertising of around $12,000 collected so far, according to Annette Pfeiffer, who chairs the catalogue committee.

Brian Diestelkamp voiced concerns about what ratio of ticket sales they need to make money — or at least not lose money.

“Where do we need to be to make money?” he asked. “I’m not afraid. I work every day but you’re going to drop a percentage of ticket sales.”

“Or you’re going to go the other way since no one else is having anything,’’ suggested Cheryl Schlottach, secretary for the group’s executive committee.

Decision pending

“We can’t make a decision tonight based on what we know,” said Baxter.

“Yes we can,” countered Phyllis Gross, who chairs the home economics committee.

Baxter, however, urged the group to consider the unknowns as of that evening. There was uncertainty about what expenses they could be responsible for if they canceled that evening.

He suggested they should wait until they know more about what the governor was planning.

“We won’t know what we’ll have to pay if we cancel,” he said. “We have facts to find out.”

Several members expressed concerns that the loss of local payroll due to the slowing of the economy, and fears about being in large gatherings due to the virus threat, which could result in low ticket sales and attendance.

Baxter noted Missouri State Fair officials were in the same position right now, making what he called “plans to have plans to cancel.”

Baxter said Gov. Mike Parson is expected to make an announcement sometime in early June about additional phases of his recovery plan announced earlier in May. He noted even the State Fair was holding off a final decision until then.

“They have a backup,” said Baxter. “They’re not going to give a yea or nay right now.”

Several thought they could not wait until June 1 for the governor to make an announcement on his next phase. Baxter cautioned association members to avoid saying a decision should be made by June 1. It may be the first or second week of June before a final word on the governor’s next phase for reopening Missouri is made.

Baxter suggested they should expect to have a special meeting “as soon as the governor makes his decision.” That way the committee chairs responsible for ordering food an beverages can meet their deadlines.

Board members unanimously approved on a voice vote a Terrick Ellis motion to table a final decision on having the fair until after the governor’s announcement about the next phase for reopening Missouri.

Members also approved a motion by Cody Sassmann to have an attorney prepare and review a disclaimer to be published in the fair book. County and state health officials won’t  do it for them, Baxter told the group. The county agency will follow state guidelines and would be willing to review it for the fair’s directors.

As Jason Gross noted earlier, “It is not going to be a normal fair,” and suggested signs be posted and social media messages be made informing people of changes they should expect.

“They don’t get their roast beef sandwiches,” said Gross, who chairs the ticket sales at the entrance gates. ‘‘We need to make sure we get it on social media. I’ll hang signs on my gates.”

Baxter noted the catalogue will be printed “even if we don’t have a fair.”

Asked if catalogue refunds would be made if there is no fair, Baxter summed up the strange times they face, saying they would place a disclaimer in the booklet “based on what we know today, not two weeks from now.”


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