Cumming’s mayor-elect says he wants to dissolve the Cumming Fair Authority in order to put the property back in city hands.
The news comes on the heels of recent talk surrounding the Cumming Fair Authority, originating from a vote last month by the Cumming City Council to transfer more than $1 million to the authority. Since that time, one councilmember has expressed regret for voting in favor while others have said it was simply ensuring funds for next year’s fair.
Mayor-elect Troy Brumbalow, who was elected on Nov. 7 and will take office in January, said the authority, not the city, has control over the property and what happens there.
“In 2015, [the city] transferred ownership of the fairgrounds, the two parking lots and the lease on Mary Alice Park [to the authority], which I find odd,” Brumbalow said, adding that “as of the deed being signed over by the mayor in 2015, the owner [of the fairgrounds] is the Cumming Fair Authority.”
Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter, who was under the impression the city owned the fairgrounds, said on Friday she’d heard rumors during the elections of plans to develop the fairgrounds into commercial space.
She said that “scared everybody.”
The motion, she added, was intended to give enough money for the fairgrounds to operate in 2018, though she said the fairgrounds would have needed to request extra funds as well.
“I can see how people saw that as: ‘Uh oh, why are they doing that? Because they’ve never done that before. But that was why — it was the rumors and innuendos. If that hadn’t happened I’m sure the money wouldn’t have been transferred, because it really doesn’t matter; it’s going to the same place.”Linda Ledbetter, councilwoman
She said she didn’t think the motion or moving funds were suspicious, since it was going to the same place, but said she could understand why the public would have concerns.
“I can see how people saw that as: ‘Uh oh, why are they doing that? Because they’ve never done that before,’” she said. “But that was why — it was the rumors and innuendos. If that hadn’t happened I’m sure the money wouldn’t have been transferred, because it really doesn’t matter; it’s going to the same place.”
Brumbalow acknowledged there were rumors but said the rumors were false, adding that his intention was actually to expand fairgrounds offerings and have more events at the site.
“During my mayoral campaign, rumors were rampant I was going to tear down the fairgrounds,” Brumbalow said. “The things that I was running on the entire time were expanding the offerings, the events, the concerts and all that of the fairgrounds. I’m as big a fan of the fair and the fairgrounds as anyone else and would never support anything doing away with it.”
He did say, however, that because the current setup means the authority could override council plans for the fairgrounds, he hopes to dissolve the fair authority once he takes office.
“I’m going to recommend to the city council that we dissolve the Cumming Fair Authority,” Brumbalow said. “If that passes by majority vote, then the Cumming Fair Authority will cease to exist, the ownership of the property and the lease on Mary Alice [Park] will a transfer back to the city of Cumming.”
If that passes, Brumbalow said he plans to create a new advisory committee to handle the fair and make recommendations for events.”
According to documents obtained from the city through an open records request, the authority was created by an ordinance on Feb. 19, 2013, with an eight-member board.
In the ordinance creating the authority, it is stated the purpose is “to create a recreational authority to develop and promote the public good and general welfare through the maintenance, management and operation of the Cumming Fairgrounds.”
Ledbetter said the authority was created after Drew Expositions, which operates the midway and other parts of the annual fair, wanted a multi-year agreement with the fairgrounds for improvements to the sky buckets at the site. Since the city can only sign year-long agreements, it was necessary to create an authority.
“They set up the authority so [the company] could make a longer agreement to protect Mr. Drew’s investment in the fairgrounds,” she said.
In an agreement between the city and the authority, the authority received title through a deed with possibility of retriever to the fairgrounds and fair parking for $10 and a lease for Mary Alice Park for $1.
The original board was made up of Gravitt, City Administrator Gerald Blackburn, Assistant City Administrator Steve Bennett, Councilmen Lewis Ledbetter and Quincy Holton and then-Councilmen Rupert Sexton, Ralph Perry and John D. Pugh.
In February, the authority terms for Lewis Ledbetter, Holton, Bennett, Perry and Linda Ledbetter were set to expire in 2022.
According to the documents, it appears Gravitt and Blackburn’s terms expire in February 2018.
Brumbalow said the make-up of the board has been a sore point for residents, and that as of January only two members of the authority would be elected officials with the city.
“They see it as the outgoing officials trying to maintain control of the fairgrounds,” he said.
Another issue raising concerns is this appears to be the first time the council has transferred funds to the authority, and Brumbalow said, “the funds have not been transferred to the authority for them to run the fair for the previous five fairs.”
Gravitt declined Friday to comment regarding the matter, but said he would discuss it during a future city council meeting.