DEL MAR, Calif. (KGTV) — With less than ten weeks until opening day, a lawsuit alleging impropriety in how the Del Mar Fairgrounds awarded a critical contract could derail the plans for the San Diego County Fair to return in full this summer, after limited events due to the pandemic each of the last two years.
“We just cannot allow that kind of cancer to creep into public contracting," said John Moot, an attorney suing the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the public agency which manages and operates the fairgrounds.
Moot says the issue began several years ago when the Board decided to hire one company to provide the fair's midway, which consists of the rides and carnival games.
Two companies bid, Talley Amusements, represented by Moot, and Ray Cammack Shows (RCS). Because the Del Mar Fairgrounds is run by a public agency, public competitive bidding laws and rules apply.
“They seemed intent to give it to a particular operator, and when that operator was not winning the bids or the bids were upheld in protest, the shenanigans started," Moot said. Moot says Board officials manipulated the scoring to give the contract to RCS. When questions were raised and the contract was pulled due to the pandemic in 2021, Moot says the new request for proposals was written in such a way that only RCS could win the bid. Talley is now suing.
Tuesday, a judge issued a temporary injunction, essentially throwing out the contract with RCS to provide the midway for 2022. In his ruling, San Diego Judge Kenneth Medel suggested the evidence shows Talley could likely prove at least part of its case.
“The evidence presented at this stage supports an inference of ‘favoritism,’ ‘fraud’ and ‘corruption’ as to the award of public contracts, although no such definitive findings are made herein," Medel wrote.
It is now unclear how the Fairgrounds Board will proceed. The issue is on the agenda for its next board meeting April 12.
A Fair spokesperson sent a statement to ABC 10News.
"We have received the Court’s Order late this afternoon and are working to determine what it means for the 2022 Fair. We are very concerned by some of the contentions upon which the Court’s ruling is apparently based, which have not been proven. With fewer than ten weeks before the start of the fair, the 22nd DAA is committed to doing everything it can to save this beloved summer ritual that is enjoyed by 1.5 million San Diegans and Californians. Fair officials are considering all options and hope to make a determination about how to proceed in the coming days."
Moot says Talley is still available and capable of providing its services.
“Talley has been wronged. They had this $80 million contract stolen from them. They’re unhappy. They’re upset and rightfully so. But that doesn’t mean they want the fair to fail," he said. “This fair can happen. There’s no doubt this fair can happen. There has to be the will of the fair board to make some systemic changes that will allow it to happen.”
Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden is urging the parties involved to come together and work out a deal soon so that the logistical issues that need to be worked out with the city can be handled in time.
“My role for my city is to encourage all the parties to try to work it out so we can have a fair," Worden said.