Friday, September 27, 2019

Turmoil at the Kern County Fair as an audit reveals gross mismanagement, Robin Fleming is hired by state Sen. Shannon Grove and remembering the late great Mexicali West ...

 Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of any other individual, news organization or business. Send news items to

 * ... FAIR SCANDAL: You can bet some heads are going to roll following a state audit which claims that hundreds of thousands of dollars may have been misspent by management at the Kern County Fair. The audit did not specifically say who was responsible, and it remains to be seen if we
are talking about Fair employees or perhaps members of its Board of Directors, which has always comprised a "who's who" in Kern County. The audit put the spotlight on board chairman Blodgie Rodriguez, who declined to comment, as did fellow board member NaTesha Johnson. Also remaining silent is Fair CEO Michael Olcott, who seemed to be singled out by the audit in one case for failing to provide receipts for dinners. The audit alleges that people enjoyed sumptuous dinners of lobster and expensive wine, charged air travel and alcohol and left lavish tips. To say this is serious is an understatement, and while Olcott is much beloved in the community, many are expecting him to be an early casualty of all this. Members of the Fair board are appointed by the governor (it's why the board is so weighted toward Democrats or Republicans at any given time). In addition to Rodriguez and Johnson, other members of the Fair board include Ned Dunphy, Jared Britschgi, Cesar Chavez, Lucas Espericuetea, David Lidgett and David Torres.

 * ... LATE BREAKING: After the above item was filed, KBAK reported this on its website.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - A California State audit found that the Kern County Fair CEO Mike Olcott and maintenance supervisor Joe Hebert reportedly "allowed—and often participated in—the gross mismanagement of state resources" in a report published August 20.

The audit found more than $300,000 in questionable spending between 2016 and 2018, much of it spent on travel, expensive meals, and alcohol.

While the report doesn't say which California fair they audited, to protect the identities of the employees named in the report, multiple sources tell Eyewitness News it was the Kern County Fair that is at fault.

The audit found that the fair, funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, had no receipts for $132,000 worth of credit card purchases, over $30,000 in "excessive and unauthorized" out of state travel, and more than $1,200 spent on alcohol.

Christopher Medellin, a maintenance mechanic who worked at the fair from July 2017 until he quit in June 2019, said the fair was the most unethical place he's ever worked.

"Nobody felt like they can actually say anything, and anything happen," Medellin said.

He claims he reported misuse of funds and vehicles to Olcott and was later yelled at by his supervisor for saying anything. The audit mentions instances when employees denied using state resources for unauthorized purposes, but auditors saw them doing it.

"The maintenance supervisor and the CEO claimed that the maintenance supervisor took the state-owned vehicle home at most twice a week when he needed to pick up work-related materials on his way to or from the fairgrounds. However based on our observations and witness statements, he used the state-owned vehicle nearly every day as if it were his personal truck," the audit claims.

Medellin said he and others were coached on what to tell the auditors, or they'd be fired.

A receipt collected in the report shows a fair employee paid $400 for steaks, $125 for a lobster surf dinner, and spent more than $600 on wine vodka, hard cider, and cocktails.

"They definitely overspent. They wouldn't do that with their own money," Medellin said.

Three sources tell Eyewitness News that Hebert paid fair employees for side jobs, instructing them to clock in at the fairgrounds, work offsite for the day, and return at the end of the day to clock out at the fairgrounds. They reportedly used state trucks and materials to do those jobs.

Medellin was complicit in these tasks, claiming he worked on vehicles, billboards, and even helped move Olcott's daughter's furniture with a fair truck.

The audit recommended that Olcott and Hebert be appropriately disciplined and pay back the money, and added that more oversight by the board of directors and the CDFA is in order.

In response, the fair board of directors said they would work to find an equitable way to pay back the money and better oversee future spending, but did not report than any disciplinary action would be taken against Olcott or Hebert.

Congratulations to Robin Fleming who has been appointed director for state Sen. Shannon Grove's 16th State Senate office here in town. Fleming is well known locally, a respected voice, and a good addition to Grove's local staff.

* ... CODY KESSLER: Good news for Centinnial High and USC graduate Cody Kessler: he has been traded to the New England Patriots to serve as a backup to Tom Brady. Kessler previously played for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns.

 * ... SPOTTED ON TWITTER: "Whenever I lose my wife in a busy shopping mall, I just start whispering to myself 'You're right' and she immediately appears to tell me that I'm wrong."

 * ... FACEBOOK: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spent last week on Capitol Hill defending the social media giant's privacy policies, and he dropped by the office of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for a chat. When McCarthy wanted to share a picture of him with Zuckerberg, he did it on Facebook of course.

 * ... SHOOTING SPORTS: The Kern County Gun Club is once again offering a terrific course for young shooters, opening its skeet, trap and sporting clays courses to youths aged 12 through high school. The courses run for six months (starting now) and classes are held once a month. The cost is just $75 and includes ammunition, targets and lunch. A shotgun will be provided. The class director is Bruce Binns, an accomplished skeet shooter, who will train the youths in basic gun safety and techniques. Call Bruce at (661) 333-4980 for more information.

 * ... MEXICALI WEST: Did you see that old Mexicali West building has been demolished? That's right, the Gamez family sold the iconic restaurant and it will not be replaced by an office building with two small restaurants. Mexicali West had a strong local following, and this Facebook post testifies to the loyalty its customers had for the place. Said Mariane McLucas Reyes: "I actually got 2 roof tiles from Mexicali West as mementos, from a job foreman when they started the demo. I worked there as a teen, had dozens of birthday dinners there and though we still eat at the downtown location, West was just a wonderful respite from your day. Calming views sitting by the glass window of the California Room, staff that never let your water or tea glass go unfilled (thanks to Esther Gamez's rules for service). West was always magical at Christmas and just a beautiful restaurant, unlike any other we have in town. I will miss it, always."

 * ... TRASH: Here is an ugly scene taken on Chester Avenue in front of the Stars Theater. The craziness continues but at least in this case, the city was quick to clean up the mess.

 * ... MEMORIES: Check out this photo from 1969 showing the Wheeler Ridge pumping station, compliments of the Kern County of Old Facebook page. And then there is the second picture, from the 1930s or 1940s, of the old water wheel at Hart Park.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Bakersfield is a house divided over the allegations against Monsignor Craig Harrison, District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer is laser-focused on the homeless and crime issue and Gene Voiland is honored by Washington State University

Sunday-Monday, September 22-23, 2019

 Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of any other individual, news organization or business. Send news items to

 * ... FATHER CRAIG: How bad has the rift in our community become over the investigation into molestation charges against Monsignor Craig Harrison? Well, it is hard to believe it could get any worse. Friendships have fallen by the wayside as the community has taken sides: those who believe
Father Craig without reservation, and those who have taken a wait and see attitude to give respect to the accusers. There simply is no in between with some people. Disagree and you are the enemy, worthy of being ostracized, isolated and ridiculed. Stand by Father Craig and you are spitting in the face of young people who may have been victimized by his own hands. While we wait on the Diocese of Fresno to rule on his fate, Father Craig's legal team papers critics with lawsuits, a tried and true legal strategy meant to intimidate others into remaining silent. (Some even talk openly of suing the Roman Catholic church) Many Craig supporters are withholding support from the church, feeling that if they can hurt the church financially, it will force the Diocese of Fresno to bring him back. When his supporters speak of the worse case scenario (that Harrison is not allowed back in his old position) there is even talk of Father Craig opening his own church. Would cradle to grave Catholics actually leave the church to follow Father Craig, a move that seems more evangelical in focus than Roman Catholic? Does the person trump the faith? This is likely more of an emotional reaction than reality, but the mere fact it is being talked about speaks to the level of discord this whole case has left in our community. Let's all hope this issue is resolved quickly before more damage is done.

 * ... HOMELESS: If there is one person who understands the public frustration over homelessness, it is District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer. During an appearance on The Richard Beene Show, I asked her to respond to people who say our community lacks compassion in dealing with this crisis. Zimmer didn't blink, referring to all this as a drug, crime and safety issue. "I am not a social worker," she told me. Rather, she is here to make our community safe. Bravo! Zimmer spoke at length about her plan to prosecute, and jail, repeat misdemeanor offenders, not the end-all solution but certainly a start. Count me in as one of those who has reached the boiling point. The photo below shows a vagrant in the alley behind my house, resting after shooting up. It is all too common these days. And then I spotted this post on Facebook: "I had a homeless drug addict high on heroin walk through my front door in broad daylight telling me,  'I had what he wanted and he was here to get it' over and over as I ran out screaming my face off and my kids were upstairs. This was on 18th street south of 24th. I found needles in the alley, was awakened by shouting in the middle of the night, someone had a party on my lawn... I could go on and on. This is a DANGER to our community."

 * ... GENE VOILAND: Congratulations to Gene Voiland, retired CEO of Aera Energy, who was honored by his alma mater, Washington State University, with a Foundation award recognizing his contributions to the university. A 1969 graduate of WSU, Violand has given generously to his alma mater and in fact the engineering school was named after him: the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering.

* ... GO RUNNERS: The CSUB men's basketball team unveiled its new schedule this week, and it features some terrific matches against top ranked teams. On Nov. 23 the Runners will travel to Spokane, Wash., to play Gonzaga, always a top 10 contender, and on Dec. 7 they travel south to play Ole Miss, where CSUB Coach Rod Barnes played and also coached, earning SEC coach of the year honors.. Finally, our Runners will play Texas Tech in the Lone Star state on Dec. 29.

* ... BARBECUE: The arrival of fall and cooler temperatures means it's barbecue fundraising season again in Kern County. One of the biggest with perhaps the worthiest of causes is the annual St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Center Fall BBQ. It will be held Thursday, October 3 at the facility at 316 Baker Street. Doors open at 5 p.m., and guests can enjoy a NY steak or Teriyaki chicken and all the trimmings, grilled to valet parking will also be available. The day-facility receives no federal funding and relies on this event to provide two hot meals a day, access to restrooms and showers, and social services to upwards of 200 men, women and sometimes children every day. As everyone in our community grapples with the growing homelessness problem in our area, consider the ticket the most important $35 you'll spend all year. Tickets available at the door and at the Thrift store next door.

 * ... MEMORIES: Take a walk down memory lane with me and feast on these photos of Bakersfield back in the day.