After a 15 month search for a qualified candidate to replace departing CEO Pat Conklin, the Sonoma-Marin Fair has hired Salinas Valley Fair CEO and Penngrove-native Sarah Cummings as its new leader.

"Sarah is a fantastic person and she has a wealth of experience that will benefit the Sonoma-Marin Fair," James Burleson, president of the fair's board of directors said in a statement Monday. "We are excited to welcome her back to Sonoma County."

Cummings, who grew up showing dairy heifers as a 4-H exhibitor at the Sonoma-Marin Fair, said that throughout her career with California fairs, she always considered Sonoma-Marin her hometown fair.

"I'm excited to be back and I'm looking forward to being part of the community again," she said in a statement. "The Sonoma-Marin Fair has a wonderful reputation, even capturing national attention for the World's Ugliest Dog Contest. I am proud to be part of the team here."

Cummings has worked for the Western Fair Association, the Sonoma County Fair, the Marin County Fair and the Salinas Valley Fair. She graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in special event and fair management.

Cummings arrives at a pivotal time in the Sonoma-Marin Fair's future. Currently, the fair and the City of Petaluma are in negotiations over the fair's lease of the valuable Petaluma fairgrounds property. The fair's 50-year, $1 per year lease expires in 2023 and has been the subject of widespread debate. City officials have repeatedly expressed a desire to exert more control over the 64-acre, downtown site.

But fair officials said Monday that Cummings' arrival will not affect lease negotiations, which continue between the fair and City Manager John Brown.

"It really won't make a difference to the negotiations because we've had Joe Barkett representing the fair in negotiations," said Conklin. "(Cummings) will just join the conversation."

Brown, who met with fair representatives Barkett and Conklin earlier in January, said that negotiations are continuing, though he had nothing new to report.

For Conklin, leaving is a bittersweet moment. "I'm going to miss everybody," she said. "Petaluma has always felt like home to me. It's good people, good passion and a great place to be."

Conklin will return to Dixon to run her hometown fair, which she has done part-time for the past 15 months.

The Sonoma-Marin Fair CEO position has an annual salary of between $75,500 and $89,800.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at