Fair Board Addresses Lawsuit Ruling

Photo: Times-Union

Kosciusko County Fair Board President Shane Checketts said Monday he doesn’t want to appeal the ruling upholding a ban on motorized racing at the fairgrounds, but it’s not just up to him.

During the board’s monthly meeting Monday, Checketts discussed the Indiana Court of Appeals Opinion, that was filed Feb. 27, rejecting the fair’s appeal to the permanent injunction. The Opinion also agreed with the plaintiffs and sent the matter back to the trial court for the fair to have to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees for the appeal, and possibly damages.

Elkhart Special Judge Stephen Bowers had ordered a permanent injunction Sept. 3, upholding a 1990 agreement between neighboring homeowners and the fair to stop motorized racing. The fair – a 501c3 nonprofit organization that is funded through the events it puts on – has spent over $100,000 on the lawsuit since they were sued in May 2018.

“I don’t think it’s news to anyone at this point,” Checketts said Monday as he briefed the room on the appeals opinion. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of answers tonight. We had a very brief call with our attorney, but I don’t know the exact next move yet.”

When asked by the Times-Union if they plan to appeal to the Supreme Court, Checketts said he personally doesn’t want to appeal the decision. However, the entire board and the attorneys will make that decision, so it’s not just up to him.

In October, Fair Board Treasurer Sheal Dirck said about appealing, “It only costs $10,000.” When asked if the board still feels that way now about their financials and that it’s only $10,000, Dirck directed the question for Checketts to answer, to which Checketts said, “No,” adding that they don’t have any idea what the cost would be to appeal it to the Supreme Court.

Fair Association member Rick Snodgrass reminded the board Monday that they now have to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and possibly damages. Snodgrass wanted the board to take that into consideration when deciding to continue appealing. Checketts said he most definitely would.

Dirck said that the lawsuit isn’t over, though, because there are two additional counts to the three-count lawsuit. Dirck said the first count was the motorized racing covenant, which has been addressed. The second count is a nuisance count, and the third is a request to have to pay all of the plaintiffs’ attorney fees.

“The second count is going back to the original court to jury trial for the nuisance,” Dirck said. “A jury trial in Kosciusko County with the special judge from Elkhart, and that’s a whole bunch of money.”

Dirck said the board doesn’t have a say in that, because if the plaintiffs wants to continue fighting them, then the fair is forced to pay to do so.

When Dirck said the nuisance count could potentially completely end the fair, Snodgrass warned him about making such “dangerous assumptions” and said that he doesn’t believe any of the plaintiffs would try to stop the actual fair from happening.

Checketts seemed to agree with Snodgrass and said he doesn’t believe the homeowners would try to stop the fair, but he did say the nuisance count was vague and included odors, noise or anything else generated at the fairgrounds.

Checketts said that the fair board will comply with the injunction order for as long as it’s enforced.

It was also voted on that the fair board will appoint a public information officer (PIO) to send out press releases and deal with the media.

“We see the need to have a PIO,”?Checketts said. “It’s something I felt the need for to be able to communicate better with the public.”?

The fair board executive committee will choose and recommend an association member for the position to present that person to the board. The PIO will be a volunteer position.

Checketts also said that board member Sarah Baier turned in her resignation from the board and her work running the activities tent. Checketts cited Baier as resigning over “personal reasons.” The executive committee will also be tasked with finding a person to fill her seat and present that candidate to the board at next month’s meeting.

Board member Nathan Rhoades said Baier’s departure will leave a void in the activities tent and he described her as someone who had a lot of enthusiasm for what she did.

Also Monday, the board:

• Heard a financial update from Dirck that showed for the 2019 fiscal year from Oct. 1, 2019, through Monday, the total expenses were $116,778.13, with a net operating income of –$3,240.85. In 2018, total expenses were $165,942.69, with a net operating income of –$24,525.13.

“It costs $10,000 a month to operate this place and not much income coming in yet,” Dirck said. “We’re better off than last year.”

• Approved to bring a Bengal tigers and Australian animal exhibit to the fairgrounds for six days. The tigers will perform three shows a day, and the Australian exhibit will perform two shows per day. Cost for the tigers is $8,500; cost for the Australian animals is $7,500.

• Heard an update from the paintball committee that a semi-pro paintball team might consider making their home field at the fairgrounds. The fair also offers paintball birthday parties, where people can come and either shoot at each other, or have the option to shoot at others like the Zombies Alive scenario. Anyone interested in booking a party can contact the fair office at 574-269-1823 for more information and rates.

• Promoted their barbecue fundraiser happening Saturday from 4 to 7:30 p.m. in the Home and Family Arts Building at the fairgrounds. Cost is $9 per pound and sides, along with a bake sale, will be available. The fair is also offering deliveries to local businesses on Friday for lunch. Anyone business wanting to order barbecue for delivery on Friday needs to place their order by Thursday.

The Kosciusko County Fair Board meets at 7 p.m. the second Monday of the month in the Shrine Building at the fairgrounds.