The Richland County Commissioners voted on Monday, June 29, to cancel the county Fair out of concerns about COVID-19. The Richland County Fair and Rodeo was scheduled to be held from August 5–8, 2020.
In a 2–1 vote, the county commissioners followed the recommendation of the Richland County Fair Board, which recommended on Monday afternoon at the meeting to cancel this year’s scheduled Fair.
County commissioners Shane Gorder of District 2 and Loren Young of District 1 voted to cancel the Fair. County Commissioner Duane Mitchell of District 3 voted to continue with the Fair. The decision was based on a majority; and the motion to cancel the Fair, made by Gorder, prevailed.
At the beginning of the commissioners’ meeting, Chris Hillesland, a County Fair Board member, explained why the board made a unanimous recommendation not to hold the Fair this year.
“The Fair Board’s decision wasn’t based on what’s most popular and whether the people of Richland County want to have a Fair or not,” Hillesland said, making numerous references to concerns about the COVID-19 virus and the potential for a major outbreak in the county if the Fair were held.
“It was based on doing what’s right,” he said.
“We thought we could make this work,” Hillesland added, alluding to the fact that the Fair Board held off on making a final decision until the end of June.
A couple of dozen citizens attended the meeting to voice their concerns about both sides of the issue. Their opinions centered on COVID-19 and the possibility that holding the Fair might cause a major spread of the coronavirus. Many people, including the two county commissioners who voted to cancel the Fair, pointed out that a recent surge in reported positive COVID-19 cases raised their concerns at the last minute.
One of those concerned citizens identified herself as a registered nurse. Wearing a protective mask, she spoke at length about the risks everyone in Richland County faced — not just people in attendance if the Fair were held — by being exposed during and after a large public event.
“This is America,” said another woman, who voiced her strong opinion that the Fair should continue. “You have the choice to go to the Fair or not go to the Fair. I don’t want to live a life where we should be in fear of going outside. I don’t wanna live in fear.
“I don’t want the ‘new normal,’” she said. “Life has to go on.”
Prior to making the motion to cancel the Fair, Gorder pointed out he was elected to be a Richland County commissioner to represent everyone and make decisions to protect people.
“It would be really selfish if I just sat back and decided on my own,” Gorder told the group, which seemed evenly split on whether to cancel the Fair. “To plan this Fair, it takes well-more than thirty days. We can only sell seventy-five percent of the tickets to the rodeo and concert.
“This is very difficult to take tax dollars you guys pay and put on a Fair that is profitable,” Gorder continued.
He estimated the Richland County Fair, entering its 100th year in 2020, normally has up to 30,000 people attending over three days. However, Gorder also made clear economic considerations were not his primary concern about holding what many consider to be the county’s most important event of the year.
“The Richland County Fair Board made the unanimous decision to recommend to cancel the Fair,” Gorder reminded everyone in making the motion.
Commissioner Young, who seconded the motion to cancel the Fair, told the audience he was initially unsure about how he would vote.
“I came to this [meeting] undecided,” Young said. “I was hoping that maybe we’d be able to put the thing on. I want the Fair, but I am in no way smarter than the people in the medical profession to second-guess them.”
Several people in attendance did not concur with Young and Gorder.
Pointing to the U.S. flag as a symbol, Howard Rambur of Sidney said, “The flag of the United States is made up of personal liberties and personal freedoms.
“There’s ways of you guys getting around this,” Rambur said to the commissioners. “Sidney does have a damned good Fair.”
Rambur said cancelling the Fair in other parts of the country has hurt commerce and free enterprise.
“It’s killed Main Street,” he said. “None of this makes sense. If this wasn’t an election year, none of this would happen.”
At least two young representatives from 4-H were in attendance at the Richland County Commissioners meeting. Both implored the commissioners to allow local 4-H clubs to continue with their normal Fair activities in some private capacity, even if they voted to cancel the public Fair.
Their voices were heard. Gorder, in his motion, recommended that 4-H be allowed to hold its events.
“I think we can run a 4-H Club Fair safe,” Gorder said. “But all of those other events, when we know we’re gonna have a loss...it’s gonna be a struggle. It’s a very difficult decision we’re in.”
COVID-19, and concerns about community health, played a pivotal role in Gorder’s vote to cancel the Fair, he said.
“I just gotta do what’s right,” Gorder said. “I can’t, in good conscience, make that decision” to continue with the Fair.
At the beginning of the meeting, one vendor sincerely expressed his disappointment about the possibility that the Fair might be cancelled.
“The Fair brings back a little joy and happiness for some people,” the vendor said.
A citizen named Larry was more vocal about his disappointment in the possible outcome that the Fair would be cancelled.
“PC be damned,” said Larry. “The only way we can get rid of the ‘herd immunity’ is by letting people out.’ Common sense is the cure. If you’re concerned then stay home.”
Facing the commissioners, Larry continued, “It’s your choice. If you choose to cancel all of the events, I would be truly disappointed.”
The theme of herds — of animals and crowds of vulnerable Richland County citizens — was voiced numerous times during the meeting.
“I'm all for the Fair,” said Mitchell. “I'm still for the Fair. I was disappointed in the Fair Board's decision. No one has told me what a pandemic is, and personally I think we're a bunch of sheep if we cancel the fair.
“We're all just following along,” Mitchell said prior to the motion to cancel the Fair, which he voted against.
Mitchell acknowledged the logistics of continuing with the Fair seemed daunting. However, the commissioner also made clear he is not convinced that COVID-19 is as big of a threat as it appears to some people in the community and the state.
“Our personal opinion of this so-called pandemic is non-consequential,” Mitchell said. “It is what it is, whether we want the Fair or not.”
At the end of the meeting, the majority of commissioners decided to play it safe and cancel this year’s Richland County Fair and Rodeo.