State Fair computer hard drives wiped clean


February 20, 2020

The state fair board held a difficult meeting Friday. The meeting began with the election of officers in which Dawn Caldwell was elected as an officer.

The executive director of the Nebraska State Fair said work to authenticate payments to hundreds of vendors is being hampered because the computer hard drives of two former financial officers were wiped clean without permission.

Lori Cox, executive director, told the state fair board at a meeting in Lincoln she and her staff have been attempting to verify payments but it has been difficult because the hard drives of both the former chief financial officer and controller were wiped clean without her knowledge.

She said she had no evidence that anything improper was done, but "the fact that those hard drives were wiped is of great concern."

Officials say state fair's finances, like a midway ride, are now spinning in the right direction. Jeremy Jensen, former Grand Island mayor, who is head of the fair's finance committee, suggested at least some of those vendor payments may not be legitimate.

Jensen called the fair's accounting a "mosh pit of disbursements," and he said the board and fair staff need to work together to make sure the fair is not being taken advantage of. "There are vendors who have looked at the Nebraska State Fair as a 'golden goose,' and it's going to stop," he said.

Jensen said he is looking forward to the fair's annual audit to hopefully get to the bottom of all of the payments. The audit will start next month, a few months earlier than usual.

Over the past couple of months, state fair officials have hinted that things were on the right track after a disastrous 2019 fair and suggestions of dire financial problems.

But Friday's meeting, which was contentious from the start, showed there's still a long way to go.

In an unusual occurrence, Terry Galloway, chairman of the fair's fundraising arm, the Nebraska State Fair 1868 Foundation, testified as a member of the public and highlighted problems he sees with the fair's accounting procedures.

The State Fair is not going bankrupt, but it is facing serious financial issues. Galloway, who is an accountant, said that since the CFO resigned in October, different and incomplete financial statements have been presented every month, and they often give conflicting numbers.

While the coming audit will help ferret out past problems, it's not going to correct structural accounting issues, Galloway said. "The auditors aren't going to come in here and do our accounting for us," he said.

The tenor of the meeting started with the election of new officers. After an attempt to install Beth Smith of Lincoln as the new board chair by unanimous consent failed, she won a 6 to 5 secret ballot vote over Jensen. The election of vice chair also ended in a 6-5 vote with the choice of Dawn Caldwell of Edgar.


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