Park County events coordinator resigns amid conflict

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Park County’s events coordinator resigned last week amid continuing conflict over the management of the fairgrounds.

Echo Renner submitted her resignation on Thursday, Dec. 8, effective immediately.

In the wake of her departure, some county officials voiced concerns with Renner’s performance, while Renner said she’d been set up for failure.

Renner had served as events coordinator since March 2015, when the Park County Commission created the post to replace the fair director.

County commissioners are beginning to advertise for a replacement — though they say they may tweak the job description to better define the relationship between the Park County Fair Board and the events coordinator.

“I don’t think the experiment’s failed completely,” Commissioner Bucky Hall said at Tuesday’s commission meeting. “I just think the person we had in there decided that they didn’t like how it was going, and having to kind of not be lord over the fair board.”

In an interview, Renner said there were parts of the job she enjoyed, including working with the public and her employees.

But she also said there was no clear chain of command and that her duties kept changing.

“(The fair board) wanted to be able to make decisions that I was told were mine to make and ... then the commissioners would change their minds and say, ‘OK, the fair board wants to do this, so now that’s their job,’” Renner said. “Things were always changing, giving more power to the fair board and taking away, changing my job, so I never knew quite where I stood, so that was frustrating for me.”

She also criticized a couple of the fair board members as being “completely uncooperative.”

Commission Chairman Tim French — who attends fair board meetings as the commission’s liaison to the board — said he hasn’t seen that.

“There were different times when they (board members) would question things, but that’s just the normal course of business, you know?” French said in an interview. He said he’s been happy with the board’s performance and that asking questions “is what you want” from a board.

As an example of the tension, some board members were displeased at their June meeting, when Renner told them she’d overspent the fair’s advertising budget — and already signed contracts committing the board to spending the money. Renner said at the time that she had been unable to accurately track budget numbers “because the books were such a mess” when she took over the fair in 2015.

The events coordinator has been in charge of managing and scheduling events at the fairgrounds and other county facilities throughout the year; commissioners plan to revise the job description to clarify that the coordinator must follow the fair board’s direction for planning the annual, week-long county fair.

“I think that was something, at least in the beginning — and I think all along — that caused some friction,” French told the fair board Tuesday night.

He said that once the new person has been hired, the fair board, commissioners and others will need to “have a come to Jesus meeting on the communications.” He indicated there had been meetings about every three months to get everybody back on the same page “and it just goes, ‘boom’ — and we just really don’t want to go there again if we can help it.”

The commission created the position in 2015 to try resolving long-running conflict between fair board-directed staffers who ran the fair and commission-directed buildings and grounds staffers who maintained the facilities. The commissioners eliminated the fair director and placed all fair staff under their supervision, instead of the board’s, and limited the board’s oversight to the week of fair; three fair board members resigned in response.

Despite the changes, some of the problems continued. In May, Buildings and Grounds Department Supervisor Mike Garza told commissioners that having both he and Renner giving orders to workers at the fairgrounds had resulted in a “convoluted mess.” Commissioners shifted a couple positions from buildings and grounds to the fair/events department to try resolving the problem.

With no events scheduled at the fairgrounds until early January, Garza will temporarily oversee and find work for the staffers who had been answering to Renner.

“We’ve got now a 40-hour a week guy with nothing to do and two custodians with nothing to clean because nothing’s being used,” Garza told commissioners, also criticizing the way Renner ran the crew.

He said the events department also spent close to $5,000 on a rake for prepping the fairgrounds’ horse arena, but the county’s equipment is not capable of pulling it.

“That’s part of eating up an events budget for a piece of equipment we can’t use now,” Garza said. He suggested the job description say that the fair manager coordinate with his department on purchases.

Asked by the Tribune about Garza’s comments, Renner said she’d researched the rake for the arena.

“I don’t know why he would say that, because that’s exactly what we needed,” she said.

Also at Tuesday’s commission meeting, Park County Clerk Colleen Renner questioned the value of a free community event called the “Pumpkin Festival” that coordinator Renner hosted the last two years.

“Is it our place to be putting on an event and costing that budget monies that we get nothing back from?” Colleen Renner asked commissioners, estimating the cost of this year’s festival at $1,890.

French noted that each department is given discretion over its budget, “but you have a good point,” he told the clerk. “It’s to help facilitate events, not spend money to…”

“... to make an event,” clerk Renner jumped in.

“Right,” agreed French.

Coordinator Renner said in an interview that the free festival was part of the events department’s marketing plan.

“We know that there’s still some issues, especially in the Powell community, ... still some resistance with the commissioners making the changes that they did two years ago at the fair,” she said. “This event is kind of a PR event to help the community and the county still feel like the fairgrounds is their facility and there for them to use.”

Calls to the fairgrounds are going to be temporarily routed to the Buildings and Grounds Department’s office in Cody, as the fair’s office manager — the only remaining full-time employee — is taking some planned vacation time.

Garza told commissioners there was a period of time in late November when his office got “horrid” calls because calls to the fair office weren’t being answered or returned.

Commissioner French said when the new coordinator begins work — likely no earlier than February — they’ll be based in Powell.

“We just felt the office here would be a much better fit and there’s somebody here all the time,” he told the fair board.

Renner, who lives in Meeteetse, had split time between the office at the fairgrounds and another at the courthouse in Cody.

She told the Tribune she appreciated the opportunity, but was “really, really relieved” to have left the job.

“I don’t believe that the situation was set up for me to succeed and so ... it’s been very, very stressful for me and I decided ... just to not do that anymore,” she said.

Former Park County Events Coordinator Echo Renner acknowledged this week that she temporarily blocked the popular Kappa Kreative Kraft Fair from renting the fairgrounds on its traditional Saturday-after-Thanksgiving date in 2017.

Renner told the group and the Tribune last week that the new exhibit hall had been booked months earlier by a group she refused to identify.

“We don’t give out information about our renters,” she had told the Tribune.

However, after being pressed in a follow-up interview on Wednesday, Renner admitted she had actually been the one who booked the facility — reserving it with the thought that the county events department could host a craft fair that day.

After 40 years of running the Kappa Kreative Kraft Fair — almost always on the Saturday after Thanksgiving — Beta Sigma Phi Wyoming Laureate Rho decided to step back from the event.

Renner said she initially booked the 2017 date because she didn’t realize Laureate Rho planned to pass the baton. Renner later submitted a proposal for the events department to run the craft fair, but Laureate Rho members picked the Powell Soroptimists instead.

When the Soroptimists asked about reserving the exhibit hall for Nov. 25, 2017, Renner told them the hall was already booked. Group members prepared to switch dates, but were upset.

“I don’t think we anticipated the, you know, the kind of (expletive)-storm, pardon my French, that that was going to be,” Renner said. “And so when it became a big issue, we just said, you know, we’ll let them have it. No big deal.”

Renner said that “we let them know they could have the weekend” and thought that had been done on Wednesday, Dec. 7 — the day before she resigned.

However, Donna Schiltz of Soroptimists of Powell said the organization’s leaders were contacted Monday. Schiltz said they received an email saying the exhibit hall had become available on Nov. 25, 2017, and they could book it if they were still interested.

“It was like Christmas came early,” Schiltz said. “We are going with it the way it is, on that wonderful Saturday after Thanksgiving.”

Schiltz said some vendors called last week and expressed concern about moving the annual craft sale to another weekend.

With the craft sale again scheduled for the traditional day, “we look forward to seamless change now, and just making it a really good craft fair and keeping the traditions that were set before,” she said.

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