Rep. Norma Torres to IRS, attorney general: Review operations of L.A. County Fair Association
POMONA >> U.S. Rep. Norma Torres on Wednesday called on the Internal Revenue Service and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to review the operations and leadership structure of the Los Angeles County Fair Association.
Torres’ request comes a day after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors directed the county’s Auditor-Controller to conduct an audit of the Fair Association’s financial operations and provide a report within four months. Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mike Antonovich co-authored the motion calling for the audit.
The board’s action followed the publication of a Los Angeles Times article on the nonprofit Los Angeles County Fair Association and the steep salaries being paid to Fairplex management, including Jim Henwood, the president and chief executive officer.
It was reported Tuesday that Henwood was making nearly $900,000 in compensation and that Fairplex has drifted away from its agriculture beginnings and toward for-profit ventures.
Fairplex, the property where the L.A. County Fair takes place, is owned by the county but managed by the Fair Association.
Torres, D-Chino, said in a statement Wednesday that reports about the Fair Association and its management “come as no surprise to those of us in the community. They reflect the pattern of neglect and the lack of accountability on the part of the organization that for far too long has ignored the concerns of local residents. It’s time to bring proper oversight and accountability to the Fairplex’s management.”
Fairplex spokeswoman Renee Hernandez said in an email the organization would not comment.
Torres said Wednesday greater openness in Fairplex’s and the Fair Association’s dealings is needed.
“What I would really like to see is transparency of operations,” she said. The nonprofit’s board of directors should have “transparency on how it’s being managed, transparency in how it’s spending taxpayer dollars.”
Torres has drafted letters to Harris and to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The letters were sent out Wednesday.
In the letter to the IRS commissioner, Torres asks “that you move swiftly to press the Association to work with the IRS and the California Attorney General toward a solution that will provide long-term benefits for the citizens of Los Angeles County and the region. Furthermore, we must not allow the U.S. tax code to be abused and so I ask that you conduct an audit of the organization’s nonprofit tax status.”
Torres’ letter to Harris asked that Harris work with the IRS and that her office investigate the conduct of the Fair Association and “press the organization to work with your office and the IRS to migrate to a new structure that will provide a long-term benefit for the citizens of Los Angeles County and the region.”
Torres said the Fair Association’s board of directors, which authorized Henwood’s salary, needs to be more reflective of Pomona but also of the rest of Los Angeles County.
Torres, a resident of Pomona who lives near Fairplex, has received contributions from Fairplex for her past political campaigns. During her Assembly and state Senate campaigns that took place between 2007 and 2013, Fairplex or employees of Fairplex made contributions totaling about $15,000.
Pomona developer Ed Tessier, a member of the Los Angeles County Fair Association, said the association and Fairplex represent people from across L.A. County and beyond.
“There is enormous diversity,” he said. “They are always reaching out to people.”
He said people who make up the association bring a wide range of backgrounds and skill sets.
“There is a culture of reaching out and incorporating new people all the time,” he said.
Pomona resident Mario Ramos, who is part of the group Protect Our Neighborhoods, said bringing in the IRS and the state Attorney General to the process can only help.
He said the board of directors needs to be reshaped so that it is responsive to the needs of residents living in the neighborhoods around Fairplex.
“There is nobody on that board that represents us,” Ramos said. “You need to have a complete change of the board of directors and the executive team."