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Aubertine stresses State Fair continues reforms he helped start


As a state senator in 2009, Darrel J. Aubertine sponsored legislation to increase accountability for the New York State Fair, which has been plagued with scandals over how vendors were selected by fair officials.

That legislation was successful and the fair was moved from the now-defunct Industrial Exhibit Authority to Agriculture and Markets that year.

Less than two years later, Mr. Aubertine was appointed the department’s commissioner, but the scandals he had hoped to eradicate were still there.

Mr. Aubertine arrived in the midst of a series of highly critical reports issued by the state inspector general’s office that found serious deficiencies in the way the fair was managed, revealing problems with contracts as well as theft and misuse of state property.

Since that time, senior staff members named in the most recent report have been replaced, leaving Mr. Aubertine with an ostensibly clean slate.

Former State Fair Director Daniel D. O’Hara is out. So is Robert M. Haggerty, the first deputy commissioner. Michael R. McCormick, former Agriculture and Markets supervising attorney, is gone as well.

Mr. Haggerty and Mr. O’Hara allegedly engaged in inappropriate contact with a vendor bidding to provide catering services, while Mr. McCormick allegedly misrepresented the incident to the state comptroller.

General counsel Ruth A. Moore also was replaced, Mr. Aubertine said.

“There’s been a bit of a culture shift,” he said.

The fair now will work with the state Office of General Services on all contract procurements.

The new State Fair director is Thomas Ryan, former chief of staff at the state Thruway and Canal Authority.

“Tom has done a great job putting the focus back on agriculture,” Mr. Aubertine said.

But the process of cleaning up the fair continues.

According to the inspector general’s report, “Agriculture and Markets intends to contract with a qualified independent outside auditor to conduct a financial and operational audit of the State Fair, and will provide bi-monthly updates and findings to the Inspector General.”

That was supposed to happen by March 31.

“Ag and Markets is working with OGS and the State Fair Advisory Board to finalize an (request for proposals) for an outside auditor. We expect it to be finalized very soon,” wrote Joe Morrissey, the department’s public information officer, in an email message.

Meanwhile, fair officials are trying to put a new face on this year’s event.

The fair has partnered with Utica’s F.X. Matt Brewing Co., to sponsor a home brewing competition with the winner’s beer recipe brewed at the company’s new pilot brewery and entered into the ProAm competition at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado.

A wine and cheese contest will feature a people’s choice award for the best pairing of the products, highlighting the state’s burgeoning interest in promoting the growing commercial wine sector.

“Dairy is the number one agricultural industry in New York state and wine is number three nationally,” Mr. Aubertine said. “With 80-plus commodities, we’re absolutely talking agriculture. ... Agriculture really is what started the fair.”

The public chose the fair’s theme for the first time, according to Mr. Ryan.

New Yorkers selected “Sharing the Bounty and Pride of NY” after they voted on 10 suggestions culled from a field of more than 500 the department received.

That is just one way state residents can “take pride and ownership” of the fair, Mr. Aubertine said.

The future is bright, according to officials.

“Naming the theme, that was gratifying,” Mr. Aubertine said. “People are starting to pay attention and feel good about the fair.”

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