Though they call it a necessary business decision, yesterday's vote by the OC Fair & Event Center board of directors feels a bit personal. The 6-3 vote terminates a lease, which happens from time to time. But this particular lease was with Jeff Teller and TelPhil Enterprises, which has run the weekend OC Market Place (or swap meet) for 42 years at the Orange County Fairgrounds, and is the same company which brought a lawsuit against the sale of the fairgrounds and was involved with the group (OC Fairgrounds Preservation Society) that identified the Fair Board's attempt to purchase the land using questionable means. TelPhil has 18 months to vacate.
"This was not unexpected," Teller told the Weekly. "It's repugnant to them that TelPhil played a part in exposing [the Board's] mastermind creation of an organization to take over fairgrounds themselves."
David Ellis, the chairman of OCFEC sees the situation quite differently.
"We don't care [about Teller's involvement with OCFPS], we don't care, we don't care," Teller Ellis said emphatically over the phone this afternoon. "We don't care that Jeff Teller and Bob Teller have the personality of barb wire. We care about the financial health of the organization. But when we have a vendor with de facto control of the property 46 weekends a year and they are not performing, we care a lot."
Kristina Dodge and the two new board members, Nick Berardino and Gerardo Mouet were the three dissenting votes.
The Fair Board cited TelPhil's failing business and repeated clashes with board members as justification for the vote. It was noted that revenue has declined over the past several years and that the board had already decreased the Market Place's rent from a minimum of $3.5 million (35 percent of gross sales) per year to a minimum of $2.5 million (25 percent) per year.
"Facts are sometimes uncomfortable things," Ellis said. "The facts are that [the Market Place] is a business in decline for a decade. [Controversial fairgrounds] sale or no sale, recession or no recession, it's a business that's in decline."
The board will release a Request for Proposal (RFP) for other swap meet vendors to make a bid. Ellis said TelPhil will be able to involve itself in the bidding process if it chooses to do so.
While the Board maintained focus on the facts, Teller believes the move was primarily a means to "retaliate" for his refusal to support the sale of the fairgrounds, and that the decision was "predetermined." Interestingly, representatives from Delaware North Companies, a company which previously bid to host a swap meet at the fairgrounds, was in the audience to speak to the Board.
Prior to the meeting, lawyers from both sides had exchanged fiery letters attempting to set up a meeting to discuss the current business deal. When the meeting finally occurred, "the only item of discussion was the amount of overpayment of sweeping charges and the irregularites in billing and inconsistencies in billing records," Teller said.
Teller indicated that his company is "evaluating all of [its] options" in regard to legal action.
"We're not a group that wants to threaten anything," Teller said. "But in order to protect our business and our [1,500] vendors and the publics interest we're considering the options."
As Teller left the meeting, Ellis said, "Let the lawsuits begin."