After meeting for nearly two hours in closed session, the Orange County Fair Board announced Wednesday that Doug Lofstrom will take over as interim chief executive.
Lofstrom, who takes the helm Thursday, replaces interim CEO Jerome Hoban, who announced earlier this week that he is leaving for a new job as head of the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, a Bay Area suburb. Hoban's last day is April 30.
"My heart and soul is in this property," Hoban said Tuesday, adding that he was "going to miss this staff. They're very talented and dedicated to what they do. I'm going to miss them all."
Lofstrom, 63, of Newport Beach, worked for the O.C. Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa for nearly 10 years, last serving as vice president of events. In that capacity, he oversaw planning and project management, marketing, event sales and public safety.
He retired in 2011.
According to information provided by the O.C. Fairgrounds, Lofstrom also worked for the L.A. County Fair and the National Orange Show in San Bernardino. He is a former president of the Western Fairs Assn. and was recognized in 2007 in that organization's Hall of Fame.
Board Chairman Doug La Belle said the board is pleased that Lofstrom will return until a permanent CEO is chosen.
"He brings with him years of experience, with not only this organization but with the fair industry in general," La Belle said. "This is a great opportunity to move forward. Doug's going to come in and he'll provide for a very smooth transition in that process."
Lofstrom will serve the fairgrounds "as much as needed," La Belle said. He starts Thursday on the month's comprehensive board agenda, which will be made public a few days before the April 25 scheduled meeting.
Six of the nine board members were present Wednesday. David Ellis, Kristina Dodge and Ali Jahangiri were absent.
"I'm very excited for the organization," Hoban said of Lofstrom. "They have selected somebody, in a transition capacity, who's talented. He's a hall-of-fame fair kind of guy."
Hoban, a nearly 21-year fairgrounds employee, and Lofstrom will work together until the former leaves.
Board member Nick Berardino called Lofstrom a "wonderful selection" with a "stellar record."
"He's a proven leader here and he has put on the best fairs ever," Berardino said.
Failed fairgrounds sale
The changing of the guard for the state-run, 150-acre property comes after a tumultuous saga that saw proponents wanting to sell the fairgrounds to a private company while activists urged authorities to keep it public.
The ultimately failed effort began in 2010 after a directive the year before from then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sell off the property as a means to help the state budget.
Newport Beach-based developer Facilities Management West was slated to buy the fairgrounds in a $100-million deal until an appellate court blocked the sale in June 2011. By that July, state officials, led by a new governor, Jerry Brown, declared they were no longer interested in selling off the fairgrounds.
After a year-long investigation, a 12-member committee on Jan. 17 issued a condemning 17-page report on the fairgrounds sale that contained nine principal recommendations, among them calling for greater transparency throughout the organization, obeying state requirements for public meetings, and training on ethics and public records requests.
The Fair Sale Review Committee's report has since been sent to the Orange County district attorney's office for further review. Fair Board members have said they hope the D.A.'s subpoena powers can help secure missing information that the committee could not obtain under its own authority.
"We are the poster child of how not to sell fairgrounds, and how this should not happen, mismanagement, et cetera," committee member Theresa Sears said during the Jan. 17 Fair Board meeting.
Sears is also involved with the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, whose members opposed the sale.
After the presentation, Ellis called the report biased and containing "speculation" and "conjecture," though he and the rest of the board ultimately approved the recommendations.
"There was a narrative, and y'all stuck to the narrative," he said at the time, "and you neglected a bunch of chapters in your book."
Hoban, who was vice president of operations during the sale attempt, has denied involvement in its questioned contracts. Berardino, however, has been an outspoken critic of the whole saga. Brown appointed the Orange County Employees Assn. general manager to the board in 2011, after the failed sale.
During the January meeting, Berardino accused those behind the sale of money laundering, and the fairgrounds staff of failing "to protect these board members."
There were some who saw the sale, Berardino said, as an opportunity for "money to be made … people want to be upset over the word 'laundering.' They'll be upset, 'cause that's exactly what happened. Money was laundered by these people. Period."