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Ag Commissioner, State Board At Odds Over State Fair's Midway

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The controversy over who should run the midway at the State Fair is still boiling.

For more than 50 years, the James Strates Co. has operated the midway at the State Fair. For decades, Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham made the choice. With a new commissioner came a new selection process. Even so, there are still questions over fairness.

New Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps wants a new midway operator -- Amusements of America -- awarded the contract, even though a selection committee she appointed wants to stay with Strates.

"What we've seen over the years is a stagnant fair, at least in the midway side of the fair. People tell us they aren't going because it's the same thing over and over," Phipps said.

Dan Finch, a member of the Board of Agriculture, said the selection committee decided to play it safe and stick with the company they knew and trusted.

"I think what happens with this selection committee, we are not aware of all of the ride safety records and all of the criminal records and that should have been researched earlier," he said.

The big question is who has the final say: the board or the commissioner?Lawyers for both Commissioner Phipps and the Board will try to work this out next Tuesday.

Last year, the state fair grossed just under $4.5 million, and Strates took home about a million and a half.