Local News

Alice Graham Underhill Proposes Changes To State Fair Selection Process

Posted June 12, 2003

— A candidate for state Ag Commissioner unveiled her plan Thursday for selecting future midway operators at the State Fair.

Alice Graham Underhill, the daughter of former state Ag Commissioner Jim Graham, said she wants a 39-member board of trustees to have final authority over the state fair contract. Underhill proposed that the trustees be comprised of the state agriculture commissioner, the state Board of Agriculture, appointed representatives and legislative leaders.

"I think we need to reassure the public that the state fair contact is going to be fairly awarded in this process," she said.

Trustees would not consider all bidders for the state fair, but just the commissioner's final recommendation. They would be able to approve or reject the choice. Right now, only the state Agriculture Commissioner makes the final decision on who gets the state fair contract.

"This gives another crediblity level of people who can validate that and give the public a feeling of real confidence that this is being done in the sun," Underhill said.

The new proposal comes on the heels of allegations that contracts with Amusements of America, the current operator of the state fair midway, may have been influenced by illegal payments by members of Meg Scott Phipps' election campaign. Phipps recently resigned as state agriculture commissioner after three members of her election campaign were indicted on federal charges.

Underhill also has a prior history with the Strates company, who operated the midway at the State Fair for nearly 50 years before Amusements of America was awarded the contract last year. Underhill said the changes would go into effect when and if she is elected.

Amusements of America's includes a clause that binds the company to abide by all federal, state, and local laws. However, the company has not been charged.

When asked whether the contract deserves to be honored, company spokesman Morris Vivona Jr. told WRAL, "Absolutely, I don't know of any reason why it shouldn't be." He then referred WRAL to his attorney.

Interim Ag Commissioner Britt Cobb says he will review the validity of the fair deal with the support of the attorney general and the governor.


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