Nevada County Fair board ousts CEO Rea Callender | TheUnion.com

Nevada County Fair board ousts CEO Rea Callender

The official departure of Nevada County Fair CEO Rea Callender Friday was as mysterious as the two-month leave of absence that preceded it.

Callender was hired in 2015 and was making $117,171 a year. He had been on extended leave since July, before the start of the Nevada County Fair, for undisclosed reasons. The fairgrounds also wouldn't say if Callender's leave was paid, or when and how it actually began.

The fairgrounds' board at its July 17 meeting scheduled a closed-door session to discuss the CEO's performance, but said no action was taken after that session or in August.

Its next regularly scheduled board meeting was Sept. 18, and that agenda had no mention of Callender's leave or his performance. The board then called a special meeting for Friday, which required a finding of substantial hardship to be legal.

"As you know, the CEO has been on leave for 60 days now," Board President Steve Steele said at the start of Friday's meeting.

Steele then cited issues caused by Callender's extended leave, including workload and morale issues, as well as some financial impacts. The board agreed, unanimously voting that those issues did cause a substantial hardship.

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A public hearing was on the agenda at which time members of the public were expected to be allowed to comment on the CEO's performance.

But Steele, after calling for public comment for items not on the agenda, then stated there would be no public hearing, and moved immediately to closed session.

Several in the audience said they had come to the board meeting specifically for that public hearing, and waited for the hour-long closed session to end.

But when the board reopened the meeting, Steele announced the decision by unanimous vote to dismiss Callender, effective by the close of business, and adjourned the meeting.

Callender, who left the closed session abruptly, could not be reached for comment afterward.

All questions regarding the decision to dismiss Callender and to cancel the public hearing were referred to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The department's Fairs & Expositions branch provides fiscal and policy oversight of the network of California fairs, according to its website.

A request for comment by its Public Affairs Office was not returned as of press time.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.