By editorial board • 

Successes can keep piling up with full-time fair manager

If you’re in need of an uplifting story of government in action — especially one steeped in rural Americana — peruse recent archives of the Yamhill County Fair. It turned a corner with the beginning of the new century and has been on a roll ever since.

In 2000, the fair incurred $43,000 in new debt.

Sadly, that kind of result had become nothing more than business as usual for Oreg

n’s oldest county fair. Bleeding red ink, it couldn’t afford to adequately maintain the grounds, let along renovate aging expo buildings.

The board greenlighted development of a go-cart track, but retrenchment was the watchword otherwise. It mulled cutting fairgrounds use to a single weekend. It even considered selling the fairgrounds and trying to develop new facilities elsewhere.

The foundation was established for a turnaround when the board hired experienced fair organizer “Big Al” Westhoff. Infighting led to the resignation of three board members in 2006, but Westhoff headed off total collapse by threatening to resign if the board didn’t get its act together.

Slowly but surely, the situation began to improve, fueling renewed optimism and momentum.

Under Westhoff’s leadership, the fair began to set new annual attendance records. By 2010, attendance was double its low-water mark of 2000.

A brighter revenue picture allowed the board to fund long-needed improvements to the pavilion and other structures. That served to attract more events, further augmenting the revenue stream.

In 2013, the board discovered its office manager had allowed the books to lapse into disarray. That provided the board and its county overseers with an important lesson about the need for vigilance.

Later this year, Westhoff plans to retire, ending a wildly successful run. The board decided earlier this week to replace him with one of their own, longtime rodeo organizer and board chair Gary Wertz.

Unlike Westhoff, Wertz will serve on a full-time basis. The hope is doing so would allow the fairgrounds to tap even more of its potential as a year-round, multi-event venue.

We are enthusiastic about a campaign to recruit more revenue-generating events. If all goes well, the next chapter in this story will be the emergence of new regional expos and festivals to fill out the calendar.

Wertz has huge shoes to fill and big expectations to match as he assumes that challenge. But all signs are positive, as he has two decades of personal experience to draw on when he takes the reins.

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