DEL MAR — Frustrated his colleagues seemingly did not support his efforts to address several procedural issues, Tom Chino resigned from the 22nd District Agricultural Association on Feb. 14, about two hours before a scheduled monthly meeting and less than six months after being appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the board of directors that manages the Del Mar Fairgrounds.Chino emailed his resignation letter to fellow board members, fairgrounds officials and the Sandpiper, a Del Mar community journal.
“When I was appointed to the Fair Board I looked forward to bringing my background as a full time farmer, and my considerable experience in the California food business, to the benefit of the 22nd District Agricultural Association,” Chino wrote.
“I did not come into office with any kind of reform agenda in mind,” the letter stated. “I only wanted to do my best to promote the agricultural interests of the fair and of the state.”
Chino went on to say he was “taken aback” by an audit report from the CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture) accusing the 22nd DAA of improper payments to district employees.
At the January meeting Chino asked his fellow board members to refer the CDFA audit issues back to committee for follow up but his motion failed for lack of a second. He also introduced an open-meeting policy for adoption, but it, too, died after none of his colleagues would second the motion.
“The message was clear that this board is not interested in pursuing these issues that I feel must be addressed,” Chino wrote. “Instead of addressing these serious issues some board members embarked on a personal attack on me.”
The agenda packet for the January board meeting included a thread of emails between Chino, fairgrounds staff and board members and the director of state fairs and expositions, who was trying to coordinate one-on-one orientation meetings with new directors.
An email from Chino to Dwight Worden inadvertently sent to a fairgrounds executive assistant ended up in the packet made available to the public. When asked about his relationship with Worden, Chino said he is his personal attorney and adviser.
Worden is a former Del Mar city attorney who recently worked on an ad hoc city committee tasked with forming a response to the 22nd DAA’s EIR for expansion plans at the state-owned facility.
Worden is also the founding partner of a law firm representing the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority in a lawsuit challenging the EIR.
The fairgrounds attorney and other board members said the relationship between Chino and Worden represented a conflict of interest and expressed concerns about Chino possibly sharing information with Worden that was discussed in closed session.
Chino said he only seeks advice from Worden and never discusses with him litigation or employees — matters required by law to be held in closed session.
“To be clear: there has been no leakage by me from closed session, no discussion by me of the lawsuits outside closed session, and there are no documents, email or otherwise, between me and my personal attorney about these subjects because we never discuss them,” Chino wrote in his resignation letter.
“It is my personal hope that at some point the Board will pursue the reform agenda that I feel is critical to the long term well being of the district,” the letter stated. “Under the present circumstances, however, I feel it is best for me to step off the board, and I offer this memo as my resignation effective immediately.”
Board President Adam Day said he was surprised by Chino’s actions. Day said he hasn’t spoken to Chino since his resignation but the two did discuss the situation in the weeks after the January meeting.
“We both understood each other’s professional positions,” Day said. “I respect him, his background and his experience. I looked forward to his service on the board. I wish him the best.”
Del Mar resident Bud Emerson, who addressed the fair board at its Feb. 14 meeting after hearing about Chino’s resignation, said he was “pretty distressed” about the news.
“I think it’s a sad day for those of us who believe in open and accountable government,” Emerson said. “Tom Chino has unquestionable integrity and a reputation a lot of us would envy.
I think it’s a huge loss to you and the public,” he said to the fair board. “I would see this as an opportunity … to take a look at your role in relationship to the public (and do some) soul searching about who you are working for.”
Chino said after receiving no backing from his colleagues for the positions he wanted to support he “viewed the situation as being untenable” and opted to resign rather than remain on the board.