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Fair negotiations with city continue despite CEO stepping down

Sonoma-Marin Fair board officials say that CEO Pat Conklin's recently announced plans to leave the fair will not affect future negotiations with the city over the fair's lease of the valuable Petaluma fairgrounds property.

The fair's $1 per year 50-year lease expires in 2023, and has been the subject of much debate. The city has expressed a desire to retain more control over the fairgrounds property moving forward and has pushed for a higher lease price. Conklin fought for the fair's interests during her five years as fair CEO and said that her involvement in future negotiations with the city would be at the fair board's discretion.

Fair Board President James Burleson said that the fair and the city have had several meetings to discuss the lease. But when City Manager John Brown took a six-week sabbatical that ended last Monday, talks were put on hold until he returned.

"Even though there is nothing new to report yet, talks with the city have been going well," Burleson said. "We're pleased with the progress and look forward to moving ahead."

Conklin's plan to leave the Sonoma-Marin Fair is a familiar story, since, at this time last year, she announced she was stepping down to take a position with the Dixon May Fair in her hometown of Dixon. But unlike last year — when Conklin ultimately decided to remain with Petaluma and split her time between both fairs — this year, the Sonoma-Marin Fair has begun actively looking for someone to replace Conklin.

"There's still no hard and fast date that I'm leaving," she said Tuesday. "I'm staying until they find someone new. The only difference this time is that the fair is looking to hire someone as my replacement. I've done two fairs for a year now, and it's time for me to lighten my load a bit."

Conklin said that leaving the Sonoma-Marin Fair has nothing to do with how she feels about Petaluma — a place she has come to think of as her second home. "I love fairs and the problem is that I obviously get really vested in them," she said. "So I have two homes right now."

But traveling the 60 miles back and forth between Petaluma and Dixon has taken its toll on Conklin, whose family lives in Dixon. "I have an 8-year-old daughter in Dixon and the commuting has been a lot for us," she admitted.

Burleson said that the board would be discussing finding Conklin's replacement at its next board meeting and said that members would be evaluating who is available to fill Conklin's position.

"Pat is an incredible CEO," he said. "If there's a great candidate out there, we'll be very happy and Pat will ensure that it's a really good transition."


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