In Fairgrounds Shakeup, Manager Fired and Board Member Resigns

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead County Fair Board chose not to renew veteran Fair Manager Jay Scott’s contract with a 3-1 vote on Feb. 11, a move that prompted one board member to resign over philosophical differences.

The board had recently updated the fair manager’s job description in the wake of an unflattering internal audit performed on the fairgrounds and its staff.

At its Feb. 11 meeting, the board put to vote whether or not Scott’s contract should be renewed. Recently appointed board member Joy Struble made the motion not to renew, which then garnered two other votes from the board.

“It was a shock,” Scott said last week after the meeting. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen, there’s not a lot of jobs out there.”

Paul Atkinson, a board member for 19 years, was the lone dissenting vote. Once Scott’s contract was not renewed, Atkinson resigned his position.

“In the last few months up until November, Jay has done an excellent job. I mean, we’ve given the man sterling evaluations for 14 years,” Atkinson said after the meeting. “I don’t think you can find a better fair manager than Jay Scott.”

Atkinson said he resigned because removing Scott from the fairground staff was an indicator of the board’s mentality and direction, which he said he does not agree with.

“After they didn’t renew Jay’s contract, I figured the vote was going to be 3-1 all the time,” Atkinson said.

He also said the board should have given Scott a chance to improve the areas they felt he lacked in managerial skills instead of terminating his contract all together.

Atkinson said he was wary of such a motion coming from a new board member. Struble, he said, may be sharp, but “she doesn’t know the ins and outs of the fairgrounds.”

For her part, Struble said she did over 40 hours of due diligence on the matter and it was not a personal attack on Scott. It was a decision to help improve the fairgrounds’ performance, she said.

“I came in with an open mind and I found things that led me to believe that we needed to consider other options,” Struble said. “It’s not personal at all for me.”

Struble also noted that three board members voted on the motion, not just her. Board Chairman Butch Woolard said the decision was not a knee-jerk reaction to the audit, though it did have some bearing on the situation.

“It’s been an accumulation of things for a considerable time,” Woolard said. “Nobody was on a witch hunt. It just came together. It wasn’t that anybody disliked him, not at all.”

Operations at the fairgrounds should keep running smoothly despite the personnel shake-up, Woolard said. Board member Ted Dysktra Jr. was appointed as interim fair manager and will receive the base salary Scott was getting, according to the county human resource department.

Scott said that he was worried about the future of the fairgrounds, and hopes that the county doesn’t “cannibalize” them with giant parking lots. But he also said he appreciated the work while he was there.

“It was a great job,” Scott said. “I truly enjoyed it.”

The Flathead County commissioners voted to accept the updated version of the fair manager’s job description on Feb. 17. A notice for the job opening should be advertised in a couple weeks, Woolard said.