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Agency considers fairground employees state workers

DEL MAR — According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Del Mar Fairgrounds employees are considered state employees, and the Department of Personnel Administration has jurisdiction over matters that concern them.

The information came in a letter responding to a request for proof that employees of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages the fairgrounds, work for the state after the CDFA accused the district of violating California law when it allowed workers to cash out leave balances such as unused vacation pay from 2005 to 2011.
In a December meeting to publicly address that and other allegations in a CDFA management report, 22nd DAA director David Watson, a land-use attorney, criticized the state agency for not citing the specific regulations and how and why they applied to fairs.

Watson said he didn’t disagree with the decision made by Tim Fennell, the fairgrounds chief executive officer, allowing the leave buyout, but he wasn’t convinced it was a “clear-cut violation” of the law.
“I would like to put the burden back on the state to prove that you are really state employees,” he said.

Director David Lizerbram, also an attorney, agreed.

In response to that request, Michele Dias, general counsel for the CDFA, cited two code sections that state agricultural associations are “state institutions” and their directors are “state officers” appointed by the governor.

“It logically follows then, that employees of a DAA are State employees subject to all of the rights and responsibilities of other civil servants,” Dias wrote.

She also stated in the letter that according to Article 7, Section 1 of the California Constitution, “civil service includes every officer and employee of the State except as otherwise provided in this Constitution.”

Dias wrote that DAAs are not included as exemptions in Article 7, Section 4 of the Constitution.

Watson said he didn’t consider the response very convincing.

“I did not find the letter particularly persuasive,” he said. “It failed to properly identify and analyze all the relevant code sections and facts. Regardless, the issue is now a moot point.”

Director Adam Day stopped the buyouts when he was named board president last summer. It was suggested that employees return the money, but Watson said the Attorney General’s Office told the board it cannot require them to do so.

Fennell said the money came from 22nd DAA coffers, not the state, and if the employees were to quit or retire tomorrow, they would be entitled to receive all accrued funds.

“Most likely, the issue will be resolved by clarifying legislation in the future,” Watson said.