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Ag Commissioner Signs Deal With New Fair Vendor; Former Vendor Files Lawsuit

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State Agricultural Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and the State Board of Agriculture have agreed on a new vendor for the state fair.

The controversy started when Phipps picked Amusements of America to operate the midway, instead of James E. Strates Shows, which had been running the midway for 50 years.

The Board of Agriculture met for four minutes Tuesday to discuss the matter. Last week, the state attorney general said that Phipps had the authority to select the midway operator.

"We have been talking with board members after the attorney general's opinion and over the last couple of weeks, their primary concern and mine was that we show to the public that the Board of Agriculture and the department have always worked well together," Phipps said after the meeting. "This was not an issue between the board and myself. It was an issue between the losing company versus me and the department, and they had that concern and wanted to show their support today and they did that."

Phipps signed a contract with Amusements of America on Tuesday, but the midway debate is not over. Dan Finch of the Board Of Agriculture said he still believes the board should have input on decisions being made.

"I still believe that the Board of Agriculture should have more input and more say. I don't quite particularly agree with the attorney general's opinion because I do think that the Board of Agriculture is appointed by the governor for six-year terms, so it can be a check and a balance," he said.

James E. Strates Shows filed a lawsuit, challenging the decision.

"We are paying to the state of North Carolina $6 a person for every person that paid to go through the gate. The average is $2.50 to $3 and there is no show that can match what we can gross," Strates said.

"It's because of the investment in the rides like the Top Spin and the Wave Swinger and the Himalayan, and it's an arsenal of rides. No one is going to bring any more or any better rides than we can bring," Strates said.

Phipps said that the 2002 State Fair will have some new rides and a bigger, improved Kiddieland area. Phipps also said that she hopes that under the new contract, parents would be allowed to ride the kiddie rides with their children without having to pay for them.