State fair deserves bureaucratic relief
Fair season is entering the home stretch, with Oregon's state fair staggering toward the finish line.
State fairs across the country have coped with a depressed economy and drought, making 2012 among the most challenging years in recent memory.
The Oregon State Fair, however, faces unique challenges. Because it is operated by the state, everything it does -- from contracting for entertainment to repaying a state bond floated to build the little-used $10 million Pavilion -- must follow state purchasing and contracting regulations.
At its heart, a state fair is one part agriculture, one part carnival and one part entertainment. If any one of those ingredients is missing, the fair will miss the target.
The Oregon fair hit a low ebb last year, when members of the agriculture community protested that managers were nickel-and-diming them into withdrawing. Some even made arrangements to move their events up Interstate 5 to the Puyallup Fair.
Since then, fair managers have been reaching out in an attempt to woo livestock producers back into the barns. The effort has been much appreciated by many, who report better conditions at this year's fair.
We get the feeling that the state Department of Parks and Recreation is doing its level best, working within the confines of state regulations.
However, managers still have a long way to go. Above all else, they need to work with the Legislature to fix the regulations that hobble the fair. They must be allowed to work with the media and businesses to promote the fair. They must be able to be flexible when signing acts to perform. Show business and state contracting regulations do not mix.
Most importantly, the Legislature must remove the financial albatross of the Pavilion from around the fair's neck. That alone would improve the fair's financial prognosis.
Some years ago a task force presented some of these and other recommendations to the Legislature, which promptly ignored them. It's time for lawmakers to get serious about the fair, which this year faced a huge budget cut that hurt its entertainment lineup and many other facets of the event.
The state fair should be a celebration of all things Oregon. Until the Legislature acts, it will be more of a celebration of all things bureaucratic.