Fair board officials claimed in a July 29 letter that Geauga County Health Commissioner Thomas Quade is “attacking” the Great Geauga County Fair due to what they called “political posturing and bullying.”
In the letter addressed to County Commissioner Timothy Lennon, signed by fair board President David Parker and Secretary Paul Harris, officials said the health commissioner allegedly refused to review their plans for running the fair with COVID-19 strategies and said he would send them a list of points from the state’s Responsible Restart plan for guidance.
Mr. Lennon said during the commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday that the issue is “water under the bridge” because of Gov. Mike DeWine’s order last week to reduce all county fairs to junior fairs beginning in August. The 198th Great Geauga County Fair is scheduled for Sept. 3-7.
The fair board’s letter also claims that just hours after receiving a message that the health board would not shut down the fair after a July 22 meeting, they received a motion that the board voted to recommend the fair hold only a junior fair.
Fair officials said they never received the Responsible Restart guidance from Mr. Quade and that he claimed the fair board had no plans when reporting back to the Geauga County Board of Health and “spearheaded the conversation to close the fair.”
As a result of said claims, the fair board asked the commissioners to “take action against Mr. Quade and the Health Board for the gross dereliction of duties,” stating that “his intimidating practices are unacceptable.”
Mr. Lennon said that the fair board’s complaints are worth investigating, noting concern that a non-elected official is making claims “on behalf of others and then running back to his board and reporting on them and getting decisions and resolutions made.”
Mr. Lennon said the health board is selected by advisory councils of municipalities in the county and the board then appoints the health commissioner.
“I was under the assumption that there was a lot of cooperation and education and collaboration going on with different events that we’re trying to be pulling out throughout the community,” Mr. Lennon said. “I’ve heard rumors that there’s a move to go toward stronger enforcement and different things like that. I think maybe it’d be worthwhile to our board having a discussion, or at least a face-to-face, with the health board and maybe just go over a couple of these things.”
He said he feels as though elected officials are kept out of the loop when it comes to recommendations from county health departments.
“I just want to have a clear understanding of where these recommendations are coming from,” he said, noting Cuyahoga County’s recommendation that schools start their first semester virtually despite state and federal guidelines encouraging in-person instruction as an example.
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Quade confirmed the fair board’s claims that the entities had been in communications for how to run the fair prior to Gov. DeWine’s order, but added, “If they had intended to offer a plan for review, then I misunderstood because I would have accepted that.”
He said when he met with fair officials at the fair board office, no one tried to give him a cohesive plan; instead, the entities discussed strategies for potentially reducing fair attendees and increasing access to sanitation by methods such as reducing venues and supplying hand washing stations.
He said the strategies were logical and he acknowledged the fair board had been working hard to establish a safe fair, but the strategies lacked concrete mechanisms for control, adding that he was looking for a more “robust” plan with specific, outlined methods to enforce social distancing and preventive measures for the spread of COVID-19.
“They may have had it, but it wasn’t presented to me,” he said.
He confirmed that he did intend to send a pointed list for the fair board to help guide them in their planning, but decided it was a moot point after Gov. DeWine’s order.
“[The list] was intended to be a positive thing, something that would help them in their planning process. I ended up not doing that simply because I was aware that the state was making changes and was going to make a statement with regard to the county fair boards,” he said. “I didn’t want to give them, essentially, homework to do in advance of that and then have the governor come back out with something that was different.”
Mr. Quade said prior to Gov. DeWine’s order, the board recommended reducing the size of the fair to junior only as a middle-ground option, explaining the other options would be to wait for the fair board to produce a comprehensive, “cover-to-cover” safety plan or recommend to shut the fair down altogether. He clarified that the recommendations were just that with the final action needing to be made by the fair board.
He said the recommendation was not a case of “fait accompli” where the fair board had no choice but to accept the recommendation, but that the health board wanted to communicate to the fair board as quickly as possible.
The fair board also said they were expecting Mr. Quade to set up a meeting with them to review plans and said as of the letter date, no attempt had been made to reach out to them.
Mr. Quade said he did settle a date for this meeting and explained it is to help the board plan its junior fair. He said he sent notice via email on July 29 to the fair officials for an Aug. 11 meeting. He agreed it was possible he sent the notice after the letter had been written.
“I’m not trying to sabotage them, I’m trying to help them out here,” Mr. Quade said.
“Ultimately, our mission is to do what we can to help Geauga County residents make the decisions that are going to help themselves be safer, and sometimes that means that we get painted as the bad guy. And that’s okay; it comes with the territory,” he said. “If nothing happens, we overreacted. If something happens, we didn’t do our job.”