For over 10 years Grand Island has been the proud home of the Nebraska State Fair. Not only have we had the pleasure of hosting this event, but there was a significant investment made in the infrastructure and buildings that have further enhanced our community. Hundreds of thousands of people visit Grand Island every year for livestock shows and events, which bring a massive level of economic impact to our city.

Recently there has been a lot of light shined on things to which all Grand Island and Nebraska residents should pay close attention. I personally attempt to attend most board meetings for the Nebraska State Fair, and I have some real concerns that I want to share.

During the 2019 fair, there was a lot of stress. Rain was coming down on already saturated ground, water was standing all over the Fonner Park grounds, parking was unavailable, and it caused major logistical problems. I was really impressed with how the staff of the State Fair was able to coordinate busing and make every effort to keep the event going. I was a bit confused, however, during the fair at how often I heard people talking about the fair director being rumored to be fired. I later learned through reading the minutes of the board meetings taking place during the fair that rather than working to get through the fair, several board members, staff and residents were working to fire their leader.

In October there was an announcement that the board had decided to retain Lori Cox as the fair’s leader for another year, and a board member who was also the treasurer resigned and left the meeting without any comment. The next month, the CFO made a statement that the fair was in danger of going bankrupt and then resigned.

I have been told that the fair board and staff made a very solid presentation to their banking partners in December and 2020 is expected to be a great event, and one that returns to profitability, far from bankruptcy.

We learned at the February fair board meeting that the former CFO had wiped the hard-drive off of his computer when he left, and board member Jeremy Jensen raised concerns about fair expenses and cash payments to vendors that were difficult to track. On Wednesday of last week, news broke that concerns about suspicious activity had been turned over to the attorney general, and then it was announced that Lori Cox was being placed on medical leave but was not the subject of any investigation of the financial problems.

Here is my concern after reading the story recently in The Independent — what exactly is going on at the State Fair?

Why would Lori Cox voluntarily resign? If she resigned, why did the board schedule a special meeting for March 27 to take action on her contract? Did a member really go into Computer Concepts to gain possession of a computer that has been wiped clean?

The Independent also reported that the former CFO is being investigated. Jeremy Jensen said many times that things weren’t adding up and he couldn’t understand information that was being provided to him by the CFO, which now makes sense. I ask, who else is hiding something?

The newspaper reported a list of vendors that the fair paid significant money to, two of which were my hotel properties that I would be more than willing to answer any questions about. But what about the others? Who is going to find out who the vendors are that are unknown to the current fair staff? Who is going to ask the questions about all the others that were listed in Sunday’s paper. Most are legitimate, but I believe some others should be scrutinized.

While it is being reported that Lori Cox has voluntarily resigned and this was her idea, I’m told that neither of those things are true. Is she being forced out because of things that she was uncovering? How do we get answers to these questions if she is gone? This fair is much more than an event; this is a huge part of our community, and this community needs to demand answers.

I have long since supported this community in many ways, and I want our leaders to stand up and ask the tough questions. If the current board leadership won’t answer them, I’m confident enough in the integrity of our representative, Jeremy Jensen, to get to the bottom of the nonsense and tell us all exactly what is going on here in Grand Island.

Something here doesn’t feel right, and we all have the right to know the facts.

Ray O’Connor is a Grand Island businessman and Nebraska State Fair supporter. He lives at 611 Fleetwood Road.  

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