A San Diego Superior Court judge is weighing a request to void a contract given to a private company by the 22nd District Agricultural Association to operate the midway at the San Diego County Fair this year, over allegations of bid rigging and favoritism.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel heard nearly three hours of arguments Tuesday from lawyers for the district and from John Moot, the attorney for Talley Amusements of Texas, which contends it was cheated out of a contract award last year. The judge said he would issue a ruling soon.
The injunction request stems from a long-running controversy over the district’s attempts to award a contract for one company to run the midway. Talley is seeking to be declared the winner of a contract competition for the 2021 fair, and now to block the award to another company for this year’s fair.
For decades the district had a system where dozens of independent ride and game owners each brought their attraction to the fair and set up shop for a month. Starting in 2018 the district has tried to move toward a single operator, citing efficiency and cost savings.
At issue in the hearing was a request for an injunction from Talley blocking the the award of a contract to Ray Cammack Shows, or RCS, to operate the popular midway of rides and games at the annual fair. The district awarded that contract earlier this year, but Talley contends the district rigged the requirements to qualify for the contract so that only RCS could make an offer.
That complaint is part of a larger lawsuit over the bids from the two companies to run the midway at the 2021 fair. In March 2021 the district said RCS had won the competition, but Talley protested that award, contending the scoring had been riddled with errors.
About a week after that protest was filed the district canceled the contract competition, and it did not formally award the contract to RCS. The district canceled the 2021 fair, citing COVID-19 restrictions, and in its place put on a smaller and shorter event called Home Grown Fun.
Talley sued, contending it was the rightful winner of the contract. While that suit has been pending the board last fall issued a new request for proposals to run the midway for this year’s fair.
Only RCS submitted a proposal. Talley contends in its lawsuit that the district wrote the qualifications for bidders in such a way that only RCS could enter a proposal.
In January as the district board was set to formally give the 2022 midway contract to RCS, two retired fair administrators said in depositions taken by Moot that Talley was indeed the winner of the 2021 contract competition — but that the scores were changed at the direction of fair chief executive Carlene Moore so that RCS emerged the winner.
Despite those revelations the board went ahead and gave the contract for this year’s fair to RCS. The injunction sought by Moot seeks to unwind that decision, contending the contract violates state competitive bidding laws because the qualifications were altered to favor RCS.
Kevin Alexander, a lawyer representing the district, said the complaints about the score changes relate to a contract for the 2021 fair, one that was never awarded, and that the changes now are not relevant.
Still he said Talley lost out on that contract because the structure of its bid — giving the cash-strapped fair 90 percent of the revenue in the first year of the five-year deal. He said fair officials were concerned such a bid would not allow the company to operate safely, was way outside the mainstream of bids and was an attempt to buy the contract.
Moot countered that Talley structured its bid so as to gain more revenue in the succeeding years of the contract, and also that the company had a spotless safety record after decades of working at fairs nationally.
Alexander warned Medel that approving the injunction would imperil this year’s fair, which is 10 weeks away. It would be too late to put out another contract and award it, he said.
But Moot rejected that argument. He said the fair — which includes music shows, livestock, food and other events — would still go on. And he said Talley was prepared to work with RCS on a one-year deal to set up a midway. The district, he noted, has awarded a one-year no-bid contract in the past — most recently in 2019, when RCS got a contract to operate 80 percent of the games at the fair.