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Former State Fair officials heavily criticized in Inspector General report

State officials mishandled two significant contracts at the New York State Fair, have not fixed problems with inventories and security, and even allowed two employees to set up living quarters in Fair buildings, according to a report from the Inspector General's office.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) – State officials mishandled two significant contracts at the New York State Fair, have not fixed problems with inventories and security, and even allowed two employees to set up living quarters in Fair buildings, according to a report from the Inspector General's office.

The problems laid out in the report cost the Fair's Director, Dan O'Hara, his job. He was disciplined and transferred to another job in state government.

Three Albany-based officials of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which oversees the Fair, were fired. Among them was the First Deputy Commissioner, Robert Haggerty. Fair Assistant Director Troy Waffner and two other state employees were disciplined. Two Fair employees, the ones said to be living occasionally at the Fair, received counseling.

The Inspector General's report looked into allegations that contracts for catering in the Art and Home Center and for a first-time electronic ticketing system were not handled properly.

The report finds that O'Hara had a relationship with some of the owners of the company that got the catering contract, called Charlie's at the Fair. The company's proposal did not meet the requirements for bidding, the report found, yet Fair officials gave the company the contract because it was the only bidder.

Last year, Fair officials implemented an electronic ticketing system for Grandstand concerts, using a vendor named eTix. The Inspector General alleges that First Deputy Commissioner Haggerty met with another vendor, Veritix, to develop the standards for the proposal, which would have included not only concert ticketing but Fair admission ticketing as well.

Under state law, Haggerty should have taken himself out of the bidding process -- he did not -- and Veritix should have been disqualified from bidding -- and it was not, according to the report.

Veritix finished last among eight vendors for the bid.

The project went ahead, the report alleges, in spite of warnings from department officials that it could not be done properly in one year.

The report also alleges that a maintenance worker, unnamed in the report, stole more than $10,000 of copper wire and sold it. When confronted, he denied the charges, resigned and left the state.

One employee had a kitchenette in the Coliseum, according to the report. It included "pots, pans, dishes, stove, oven, and refrigerators," the report said. His supervisor told investigators that he had discovered a hidden bedroom adjacent to the kitchenette, with a door that locked on both sides. The room contained some beer and wine. William Cooper said he had been allowed to install the kitchenette and to sleep overnight during the Fair on some nights because he was on-call during the Fair. Officials said he was not on call.

Kathleen Yockell, who maintains the racing stables and infield track and is also not an on-call employee, admitted to investigators she occasionally slept overnight in the stables. Many of her personal belongings were found in a barn at the Fair and she said she slept in the stable office several times.

The report also alleged that half of the Fair's 30 security cameras don't work, there are no cameras trained on areas considered critical, and that Fair security officers cannot even monitor some cameras.

Fair officials said in a response to the report that they are implementing changes that go beyond the firing and reassigning of officials in order to fix the problems identified in this report, the third within a decade to identify management problems at the Fair.

The complete report is available here.
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