.County Fair Board Members Fired

The state ousts two additional board members following CEO Dave Kegebein’s termination

The two Santa Cruz County Fair Board members who voted against firing former CEO Dave Kegebein during an Oct. 4 meeting were terminated from their positions Friday in abrupt phone calls from the governor’s office.

Because county fairgrounds are owned by the state, Fair Board members are appointed by the governor. A representative from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office did not return a call for comment before press time Tuesday.

Loretta Estrada, who has held the seat for 34 years, and Jody Belgard, who has done so for 16 years, received calls late in the afternoon from a woman who gave them the news before hanging up without further comment. 

“She said, ‘The governor has decided to go in a different direction,’ and hung up,” Estrada says. “She didn’t even say thank you for 34 years of service.”

Still, Estrada says she wasn’t surprised by the call after she and Belgard voted not to fire Kegebein after an audit showing, among other things, he used a state-issued credit card to purchase fuel for his truck, which he used for his work at the fair. It was not the purchases themselves that were at issue, but the fact that he did not submit receipts to the state.

secure document shredding

Estrada says she was planning on resigning at the meeting on Oct. 25. Her concern now is for the future of the facility.

“My direction was always to improve the fairgrounds, and make it beautiful,” she says.

Belgard says she has been waiting for the call, explaining that the ‘no’ votes were in defiance of the California Department of Food and Agriculture officials who attended the meeting.

Belgard pointed out that Kegebein worked without a paycheck for two years as the fairgrounds rebounded from near bankruptcy to financial stability—it boasted revenues of $4 million last year, and a $1.75 million reserve, by Kegebein’s estimation. He was the facility’s CEO for a decade before his firing, which has been questioned by a number of people in South County, including 4th District County Supervisor Greg Caput.

In a press release Friday, the governor’s office said that Watsonville Parks and Community Services Director Nick Calubaquib and California School Boards Association Public Affairs and Community Engagement Representative Rachel Wells have been appointed to fill the positions.

Don Dietrich, who took over as CEO in the wake of Kegebein’s dismissal, says he was surprised by the state’s actions, and said he did not know why it happened.

He says that the past two years have been “tumultuous.”

“My focus right now is getting the fairgrounds on track and moving forward, because it is a huge resource for the community,” he says. “And we’re going to keep providing a resource for what the community needs.”

The Fair Board was set to discuss recruiting a new CEO at the Oct. 25 meeting

7 COMMENTS

  1. The two Board members who were not re-appointed had simply not done their jobs as the prime oversight for the Fairgrounds and management. The Governor acted correctly.

    Neither ever raised questions about some curious issues, such as the Heritage/Fairgrounds Foundation commandeering all lucrative alcohol sales at the Fairgrounds, financially harming the race track contractor, and in violation of Fairgrounds Policy, while under-reporting the revenue payments required. The State Audit illuminated this problem.

    Neither ever questioned the illegal and renegade actions Fair Manager Kegebein took that caused the State to declare the two livestock barns as “unstable and unsafe” and resulted in the Fairgrounds having to spend nearly $70,000 to rent large tents for the youth to exhibit their goats and sheep at the 2022 Fair. That was all done without required Fair Board approval.

    The State Performance Audit results were shocking, and mostly could have been avoided had the Fair Board been willing to pay attention. However, with the exception of Director Dietrich and Director Campos, none would, and even approved a contract for former Fair Manager Kegebein’s wife to get paid $3,000 to supervise Fair parking, violating State anti-nepotism restrictions.

    I think it is time to clean house. Hopefully, the new Fair Directors will do a better job, pay attention to what is happening, and treat members of the public with respect, rather than ridicule, for questioning obvious serious red flags.

    I have confidence the ship can be righted, and the Fairgrounds will continue to be a wonderful resource, vital in the next disaster.

  2. BECKY STEINBRUNER..What is your current position on the fair board? OH..you don’t have one..I see. You have no idea of all the things that David Kegebein and his family have committed to improving not only the fair but the entire community for the last 58 years.The Kegebein family has given its heart and soul 100% as well as spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money and time to make the fair the success it has been . I do see those things as I too grew up as the fairgrounds being my back yard.John Kegebein is my father and David is my brother and Jeannie Kegebein is my stepmother. My family is as solid a bunch of people as they come and they would rather lose a limb before betraying the fair in any way.Anyone with any wherewithal KNOWS THIS! I personally find what you bored Karen’s have done is reprehensible! You’re actions have torn apart a wonderful little town..and for what? Cuz you had nothing better to do than hassle my family? Go find a constructive hobby for yourself and keep your nose out of business that does not concern you.

  3. Mrs Stienbruner and other self proclaimed activists have managed to tarnish a south county jewel. FYI, auditing anybody for a period that included State Covid restrictions is unconscionable and mindless. It appears that CDFA was motivated from an outside force. Without necessary staff, Dave Kegebein held the pieces together. He deserves praise for his Herculean effort. Admittedly, there were forms that were not filed, however, running an emergency center through Covid and local fires is not an easy task. For those of us who have witnessed required overbearing state paperwork, it is impossible to bat a 100 percent. The Kegebein family deserves an immense amount of thanks for their decades of service to all of Santa Cruz County, not the disgraceful way they were treated. Shame on those that badgered CDFA to intervene. I would suggest some self reflection for those that have tried to undermine the fair and it’s supporters, although, I think that would be impossible. Write or call the Governor, state officials John Laird, Mark Stone and Robert Rivas and let them know CDFA has gone off the tracks. Fight on!! Now is the time!

  4. Linda, thank you for your response , Becky seems to think only Jody and I responsible for what she says we never paid attention? What about the other Directors, where they not sitting at board meetings as well, it was only Jody and I?
    It is amazing how people only want to see and hear what they want to see and hear.
    I am very proud of the way I voted, I had and have no desire to have a good, honest, hard working man have his job kicked out from under him. We have lost the best thing that has ever happened to the Santa Cruz County Fair, Dave Kegebein.

  5. Best thing that ever happened to this community is to see Loretta, Jody, Barton and Dave be terminated, removed and resign. Don’t worry ALL state officials have been keeping an close eye on this fairgrounds for YEARS!! They know what has been happening, so go ahead and send your e-mails. They know what’s been happening with this fairgrounds. This fairgrounds has been flagged years ago. Also don’t think the private emails among your “new member mob group” and your plan to localize the fairgrounds hasn’t reached the Governor’s office, dream on. It will never happen. CDFA has done an amazing job with over-site and weeding out corruption. Here is a fun fact, everyone you try to contact in government,
    Elected or appointed office has been aware of the corruption at this fairgrounds for years. No matter who you reach it will be meet with deaf ears.The fairgrounds belongs to the community, not a selected group.

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