Rodeo will stay at fairgrounds

Agreement hammered out in Thursday meeting

JAMES CHILTON/Miner<br />Mohave County District I supervisor Gary Watson (left, at podium) addresses members of the County Fair Association’s Board of Directors Thursday evening while Kingman Mayor John Salem (right, green shirt) and more than a dozen members of the Kingsmen look on. Both Watson and Salem successfully argued in favor of the board allowing the Kingsmen to host the 25th annual Andy Devine Days Rodeo on its traditional last September weekend, even though the dates come just one week after the conclusion of the county fair. Normally, the fair association requires at least two weeks between events to allow for adequate cleanup and setup time.<br />

JAMES CHILTON/Miner<br />Mohave County District I supervisor Gary Watson (left, at podium) addresses members of the County Fair Association’s Board of Directors Thursday evening while Kingman Mayor John Salem (right, green shirt) and more than a dozen members of the Kingsmen look on. Both Watson and Salem successfully argued in favor of the board allowing the Kingsmen to host the 25th annual Andy Devine Days Rodeo on its traditional last September weekend, even though the dates come just one week after the conclusion of the county fair. Normally, the fair association requires at least two weeks between events to allow for adequate cleanup and setup time.<br />

KINGMAN - After nearly an hour of heated discussion peppered with accusations and grievances, the Mohave County Fair Association's Board of Directors agreed Thursday to allow the Kingsmen to hold the Andy Devine Days Rodeo at the fairgrounds on its traditional date, just one week after the county fair concludes.

The decision resolves a months-long conflict over the fair board's decision to push the fair back a week to Sept. 16-19, despite holding it the weekend after Labor Day last year. In a letter sent to then-Kingsmen President Dr. Bob Rose, the fair association informed him that the earliest date the Kingsmen could host an event would be Oct. 2 due to the length of time it takes to clean up the fairgrounds and set up a subsequent event.

But due to the way the national rodeo circuit is scheduled, Rose said that moving the rodeo from its scheduled dates of Sept. 25-26 would essentially cripple it, bringing in fewer, lower-quality competitors. In a Miner article published Mar. 17, Rose said the Kingsmen had been forced to look elsewhere for a rodeo venue, which likely would have proven much more expensive and created greater liability issues.

Both Kingman Mayor John Salem and District I County Supervisor Gary Watson sought to defuse some of the tension between the fair board and the Kingsmen at the board's monthly meeting Thursday night, with each man making the argument that the rodeo had to happen, and the only venue that made sense was the county fairgrounds.

Recognizing the need for a faster turnaround from one event to the other, Watson suggested using inmates from the Management Training Corporation's prison in Golden Valley as a low-cost way to clean up the fairgrounds and prepare the rodeo.

"They've got a program where we can actually do some construction trades: concrete, electrical, plumbing, several other things," Watson said, adding that he was happy to arrange a meeting between the board and Management Training Corp.

"Now, it's extremely costly - seventy-five cents an hour per person," Watson added, to audience laughter. "Now, I'll help you with that cost personally, if I can get my favor." That favor, he said, was for the board to find some way to accommodate the rodeo on the dates it wanted.

Salem agreed, urging some way for the two groups to come to an agreement to get the rodeo in place. The rodeo, he said, was among the largest tourist draws Kingman has, and it was imperative that it be held at the fairgrounds on its traditional date.

Both Salem and Watson also agreed that the fairgrounds are an underutilized resource, and each argued for more events to be held there. Watson said he would be willing to help push for greater involvement from both city and county economic and tourism development entities to try to find more ways to fund and sponsor a greater variety of events for the venue.

"This facility, this asset of Mohave County's, really needs to be used almost every weekend," Watson said. "And the reason for that, especially in harder economic times, is we could really use the additional people coming in to use our restaurants, hotels and other services and trades."

Board members were cautiously receptive to Watson and Salem's requests, with one member in particular, Sydney Bailey, expressing a strong willingness to work with the Kingsmen.

"I'm in full support of the Kingsmen having the rodeo here, but I would like to note that there was never a formal request made to have a rodeo here," Bailey said. "Statements were made that 'the fair association would not allow us to have it here.' That was incorrect, and that needs to be addressed to the public."

Rose maintained that it would've been silly to request the September dates after he received a letter informing him that the earliest available date was Oct. 2. But Bailey argued that the special circumstances surrounding the rodeo might have convinced the board to make an exception in this case, if the Kingsmen had bothered to file a request.

"If I was to call my doctor's office and say, 'I have an emergency, I need to be seen right away,' they tend to make adjustments and arrangements," she said. "Without asking, you don't know."

Another board member, Michelle Robbs, agreed with Watson and Salem that the fairgrounds should be utilized more, but she added that every event comes with a cost, and that the board has budgets and contracts it must oversee. Fairgrounds manager Errol Pherigo noted that while it was possible to split the fairgrounds staff between fair cleanup and rodeo setup, it would add a substantial additional cost as well as logistical issues between the outgoing carnival workers and incoming stock contractors and rodeo competitors.

Local investment broker and Chamber of Commerce Secretary Monica Busch argued that whatever the fair association needed for the cleanup efforts, the citizens of Kingman should be able to provide, as they have countless times before.

"If we ask the citizens in this community, whatever you need cleaned, whatever you need done, will get done," she said. "They have never once turned this community down."

Salem added that the cleanup efforts would be a perfect project for the Clean City Commission to work on, which he believed would be more than happy to do it.

Despite additional sparring over the work the Kingsmen already put into the rodeo arena, as well as one board member's concern over excessive alcohol use by the rodeo contestants and the Kingsmen themselves, both groups ultimately agreed that with the resources currently in place, it would be best to have the rodeo at the fairgrounds rather than anywhere else.

Robb said the two groups could continue to snipe at each other for hours, but instead suggested the board go into a closed session with Salem, Rose and Kingsmen President Cody Swanty. The session lasted about 25 minutes, at which point Swanty and Rose emerged from the meeting room and announced that the rodeo would go on as planned.

"Essentially, they consented to have the rodeo here Sept. 25 and 26, and there's a general consensus the rodeo's important to them, it's important to the community, and it's important to have it here since the facility is already in place," Rose said. "It sounds like the board is excited to actually work with the Kingsmen to take care of some of the issues we have with the arena. We're looking forward to having a very productive year, and a really good rodeo."

Following the meeting, the association board's chairman, James Guillot, said the board had discussed using Watson's prisoner idea to set up the rodeo, adding that the Kingsmen had expressed a strong desire to help supervise any work performed by them, which would in turn free the fairgrounds employees to focus mainly on the post-fair cleanup.

"They agreed to take on a lot of the responsibility," Guillot said. "We're going to have some volunteers from our board to help out more and we're also looking at possibly hiring one more staff member for that week leading up to help get the facility ready."

Guillot added that anyone interested in volunteering their assistance in the fair cleanup or rodeo setup is welcome to call the fairgrounds administrative office at (928) 753-2636.