Spokane County is investigating reports of corruption and missing equipment at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds.
And fairgrounds Manager Paul Gillingham was forced to resign for exceeding his budget, making unapproved purchases and other mismanagement.
Officials say Gillingham’s “careless spending” has put the fairgrounds in the hole by more than $200,000.
County Commissioner Phil Harris confirmed Monday that the county hired a private investigator to look into a variety of alleged abuses.
“You keep hearing all this stuff and you just don’t know if it’s true. … (Fairgrounds employees) cutting deals for friends, that sort of thing,” Harris said.
“We need to get to the bottom of it, and if it’s not true, these innuendos have to stop.”
Francine Boxer, director of parks, recreation and the fairgrounds, said the investigation started in October, shortly after fairgrounds operations manager Jim Cotter was suspended for five days for alleged sexual harassment.
County officials were investigating Cotter’s behavior when they heard that county-owned equipment may have been stolen, Boxer said. They also heard about misconduct “that didn’t relate to harassment,” she said.
The investigation will be turned over to the Sheriff’s Department if it turns up evidence of criminal wrongdoing, Boxer said. She would not comment further for fear of hindering the investigation.
Commissioners expect a report from the investigator in about two weeks, said Harris.
Clyde Haase, chairman of the county fair board, said he’s heard about the investigation, but could provide no details.
In a move that apparently had nothing to do with the investigation, Boxer last week gave Gillingham a choice of either resigning or being fired. He resigned on Nov. 19 after about two years as manager.
Gillingham was suspended for 10 days in July for alleged sexual harassment. But his forced departure was for “poor performance” as a manager, for exceeding his budget and overstepping the bounds of his authority, Harris said.
“It wasn’t sexual harassment,” Harris said.
Gillingham has moved to California since resigning and could not be reached for comment.
Gillingham and Boxer last week asked commissioners for a $184,000 addition to the fairgrounds’ 1996 budget.
While $79,000 of that was a bond payment that was out of Gillingham’s control, the rest was due to mismanagement, Boxer said.
In addition, the fairgrounds will need another $120,000 to make it through the year largely due to Gillingham’s “careless spending,” Boxer said.
The fairgrounds spent $71,000 on unapproved purchases, including a tractor, computer and copier, said Boxer. Spending for operations and maintenance is $100,000 over budget, she said.
And Gillingham signed a contract for $35,000 more than budgeted for entertainment at the fair, Boxer said. One act, the comedian Gallagher, lost $19,000 due to poor attendance.
Gillingham recently negotiated to put a 30-foot cellular transmission tower at the fairgrounds. GTE Corp. offered $500 a month for a 35-year agreement.
In a Nov. 11 letter to Boxer, the company said it was stunned to learn commissioners might not approve the project.
“This obviously is a cause for great concern … because of the time and effort that has been put into the project up to this point,” wrote Tim McFadden, the company’s director of network engineering.
Commissioners rejected the proposal the next day, saying the tower could get in the way of fairgrounds expansion or other activities. Gillingham, they said, was not authorized to represent the county in negotiations.
Gillingham’s departure is the latest shake-up at the fairgrounds.
Sam Angove, the longtime director of parks, recreation and the fairgrounds, resigned in 1995 after 11 of his employees complained he verbally abused them on the job.
County Risk Manager Claude Cox was suspended without pay for six months for his part in the same conversation that led to Cotter’s suspension. Cox does not work at the fairgrounds, but was there on county business.
Cotter also was reprimanded in 1994 for making derogatory statements about homosexuals who are fairgrounds customers.