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Match made in heaven

February 28, 2014

Tri-County Fairgrounds Board President Maria Kemp (l) and newly appointed Fairgrounds CEO Sally Symons said they are looking forward to new programs and events at the fairgrounds that Symons will be directing. Photo by Mike Gervais

Newly appointed Fairgrounds CEO Sally Symons, a longtime community volunteer, is preparing to begin work at the fairgrounds this Monday.
Symons is a Bishop native who has volunteered her time to do everything from serve on civic boards and committees, to mentor local youngsters interested in agriculture. Now, she said she is looking forward to earning a living doing the things she has always volunteered to do.
Tri-County Fair Board President Maria Kemp said the board felt Symons’ local roots and passion for the community made her a perfect candidate for the position of Fairgrounds CEO.
“She’s a lifetime local – that’s huge,” Kemp said Wednesday. “She understands the Fair, the Livestock Show, everything we do. This job is going to have a learning curve for anyone, but hers is going to be smaller. She’s loved and well-known by the community and she has ideas that are fresh, new and exciting. She was ready to hit the ground running, and she has, even before she officially started.”
Symons said she always thought that working for the Tri-County Fair would be a fun job. “Watching Jimmy (Tatum, who retired from the Fair CEO position in 2012) do it I would say, ‘Gosh, what a cool job,’” Symons said. As a youth growing up in Bishop, “I showed livestock, my dad was the livestock supervisor, my mom was chair of the Fair’s floral department, so the concepts are already there for me. For me, it’s about what the fairgrounds means to the community. I like to be involved in the community and I like to see it connect, and the fairgrounds is a venue for that.”
“How much luckier could we have been? Sally was tailored for this job since Day 1,” Kemp said.
Symons said she recognizes that she is stepping into a leadership role at the fairgrounds at a difficult time – a time when state budget cuts mean every penny counts for the fairgrounds and while a former employee is facing charges of embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds and forgery.
When Tatum retired in November of 2012, he advised the Board of Directors to maintain a vacancy in the CEO position to save money during the tough financial time. Initially, the board had planned to maintain that vacancy, at least on a short-term basis, but when news broke of the investigation into embezzlement at the fairgrounds, the board decided the fill the CEO position.
Longtime board member Sam Dean was appointed as interim CEO last August and will be stepping down Monday as Symons takes over operations.
Symons said last week that she hopes to rebuild the community’s trust in the fairgrounds while implementing new programs and ideas that will generate more revenue for the facility.
Kemp said that the ideas on how to make up that lost revenue that Symons has shared with the fair board really made her stand above the other two CEO applicants.
“Without that funding we need to be self-sustaining and increase interim uses (between major events). Sally has those ideas,” Kemp said.
Symons said that one idea she is currently working on is creating a marketing strategy for the fairgounds’ RV lot. She explained that, with full RV hookups, fairgrounds staff should be advertising to fill those spaces throughout the year, not just during major events.
Currently, the RV park is open year round, and Symons said she is working to advertise on the Chamber of Commerce and other websites. “Those sites are there, and they’re perfect. It’s a ready-made revenue-generator,” Symons said.
Symons also said that the fairgrounds is planning to host a rock climbing festival known as the Craggin’ Classic this November.
Symons also said she is hoping to create an Eastern Sierra outdoor expo that will help advertise the outdoor opportunities Inyo has to offer while giving local sporting goods stores, hiking, camping and fishing guides and other out-door oriented businesses an opportunity to reach out to potential clients and customers.
There is also an opportunity for the fairgrounds to market the Tallman Pavilion and other facilities for local events, private parties and get-togethers and fundraiser dinners.
Kemp said she is very excited about a new idea the fairgrounds board is proposing and Symons will be helping to organize for the 2014 Tri-County Fair: an ATV rodeo.
Kemp said the event will be similar to a traditional rodeo – with events such as pole bending, the keyhole and bedroll race a possibility – but, rather than horses and mules, residents will be invited to enter with their ATV or side-by-side. “The opportunities are endless,” Kemp said, explaining that the ATV Rodeo is being planned for the Friday night arena event at this year’s Fair and is yet another opportunity for residents to participate. (For more information on the ATV Rodeo, see The Inyo Register next week.)
Symons also said she is exploring ways to get more residents involved in the agricultural side of the Fair because she feels that it is the local participation the truly makes the Tri-County Fair unique.
“I’ve had incredible feedback from the community. I want to thank everyone for the encouragement and I would encourage anyone to bring me ideas. We’re totally open, I’ll listen to anything” that could improve any of the events held at the fairgrounds, or could create a new tradition for the community. “If you have one, give me a lead. I think there are traditions here that need to be maintained, but also room for changes and growth.”
Symons can be reached at the Tri-County Fairgrounds at (760) 873-3588.

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