Sally Swartz | January 24, 2016 | Palm Beach Post
Martin County Commissioner John Haddox knows how to push a plan that has little public interest or support.
First, schedule a meeting which doesn’t include any representatives of the general public or anyone who doesn’t support the plan.
Next, declare that all the folks who attend support the plan, even if they don’t.
Haddox used the same formula a few years ago on Martin County airport issues to pave the way for airport changes and push support for the U.S. Customs facility, which commissioners eventually nixed.
This month, Haddox invited folks to discuss moving the Martin County Fairgrounds to Indiantown. He invited executive directors of the Fair Association, Indiantown Chamber of Commerce, Economic Council and Martin County Taxpayers Association. The Off Road Vehicles group representative was no-show.
Commissioners Anne Scott, Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding weren’t invited, but were in the audience, along with folks from the Martin County Extension office and 4-H groups who use the fairgrounds. Martin’s administrator Taryn Kryzda, lawyer Mike Durham and Business Development Board representatives also attended.
So did environmental lawyers Virginia Sherlock and Howard Heims, frequent questioners of commission activities.
The Fair Association, Sherlock writes in an email about the meeting, thinks the 12-acre fairgrounds site in Stuart is too small and wants to move to a larger property so the fair can make more money. The association would add, for example, a monster truck and demolition derby, tractor races and a large midway. Plus a barn and farmyard where animals could live on the land all year, farm museums, a model train museum and much more parking.
The Indiantown Chamber wants the county to buy land across from Timer Powers Park in Indiantown for the fairgrounds.
But the land is outside the urban services district, which means not only are water, sewer and other services not available, but the county would have to reject its own protective growth plan to choose that site. Several sites in Palm City that would be suitable are not being considered.
A Fair Association representative points out the fair is only nine days each year, but Girl Scout cookie sales, antique shows and other smaller events use the fairgrounds in Stuart. Those groups, along with the county extension office, would have to find new quarters.
Inexplicably, Haddox announced that folks who attended the meeting all support the idea of moving to Indiantown. Which, according to Sherlock, a former Associated Press editor, they did not.
“I question whether Martin County taxpayers would support spending $1 million or more to buy property to move the fairgrounds,” Sherlock said.
She also questions fair finances revealed in a 2013 income tax return which shows $911,000 in revenue from fair activities and expenses of $897,000, including $65,000 for “occupancy,” though the association has said it only pays $20 a year in rent to the county.
Fair finances never have been audited. It’s time to do that.
Moving the fairgrounds periodically comes up for discussion, and it’s true the existing site is small and parking is tight.
But before Haddox and his select group of invited supporters push commissioners to vote on the Indiantown site, the commission needs to get the facts on fair finances, compare other possible Palm City sites, and ask the real “stakeholders,” who use the fairgrounds for other activities, for their ideas and opinions.
Other commissioners, such as Doug Smith, have used the technique of creating a “need” for projects, such as unending expensive improvements to Indian Riverside Park. Haddox is trying the same tactics to move the fairgrounds to Indiantown.
Indiantown might be a site to consider. But until Martin County commissioners get all the facts to compare sites, they don’t know that.
Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is email@example.com