Jim Tatum is hanging up the keys to his tractor.
In what he described Friday as a “win-win situation” for himself and the Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fairgrounds, Tatum announced he would be vacating his post as fairgrounds CEO at the end of the month to free up critically needed funding.
According to Tatum, he has accepted the position of deputy Public Works director with the County of Inyo.
Tatum has served as CEO for the past two decades – he was hired by the Board of Directors at the ripe old age of 32 – and in that time has built a reputation as an approachable administrator who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, literally.
Just as comfortable on the seat of a tractor grading the grounds of the Mike Boothe Memorial Arena as he is giving financial reports to the board, Tatum has also earned accolades for helping navigate the fairgrounds through both successes – such as unprecedented high school rodeo finals contracts – and rough tides.
It is the current fiscal tempest, resulting from severe state funding cuts, that has prompted Tatum’s departure.
After weathering an initial loss of $200,000 – roughly the equivalent of the fairgrounds’ budget for the annual Tri-County Fair – and facing a continued reduction of about $100,000 each year, Tatum said he could no longer ignore the fact that “my salary and benefits package is the single largest expense” for the fairgrounds.
According to Tatum, he started searching out other job opportunities but didn’t get serious about pursuing any until it came time to begin work in earnest on the 2013 budget.
“We are looking at some very serious cuts – and I don’t want to have to do that,” Tatum said.
So, he said, he applied for the job with the county and, “I spoke with the board and have suggested they don’t fill my position.”
It’s a cost-saving move that Tatum said he believes is not only do-able, but necessary to keep the fairgrounds afloat with popular events and services intact.
“We’ve got a great staff here and I think with the addition of some office staff and part-time maintenance staff,” this can work, he said. “And we’ve been talking about this for a couple of weeks and the staff has some great ideas.”
Tatum said he also plans to do as much possible at the fairgrounds on a volunteer basis.
Resigning also presents Tatum with an opportunity to try something new, he said. “I’m looking forward to a new challenge. This really is a mutually beneficial situation.”
All that’s not to say the decision was an easy for Tatum.
“I will never, ever be able to thank everyone enough for the help and support I’ve gotten over the years, and the opportunity to serve the Tri-County Fairgrounds,” he said.