Scathing report issued on State Fair bidding, leads to director's firing

Just two weeks after the former State Fair director was quietly removed from his job and given a new position in Albany, a scathing report was issued by the state inspector general.

New York's inspector general says former officials flouted normal competitive bid procedures for State Fair catering and electronic ticketing contracts, leading to an overhaul of the annual event's management in Syracuse.

Acting State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott says Thursday four top officials have been removed and the state Office of General Services has taken over fair procurement.

Scott reports that slack security at the fairgrounds resulted in two employees living and storing things there, with one residing in a racing stable office, keeping exotic pet birds on the site and storing a pickup truck and enough belongings to fill six horse stalls.

Here's a portion of the report:

"Specifically, it was alleged that First Deputy Commissioner Robert Haggerty and State Fair Director Daniel O'Hara engaged in inappropriate contact with a vendor bidding to provide catering and restaurant services in the Empire Room at the Fair, and that after selecting a vendor, agency officials negotiated a contract that deviated materially from terms of the Request for Proposals (RFP), thereby creating an unfair procurement. It was further alleged that during the procurement of an electronic ticketing system for the State Fair, Haggerty improperly consulted with representatives of a vendor, then manipulated the procurement to favor a proposal from that vendor. Finally, it was alleged that Fair management failed to provide adequate security at the Fair and allowed two employees to maintain sleeping quarters on the Fairgrounds."

In light of the probe, the Inspector General advised Agriculture and Markets it should review conduct of Fair management and take action. Four people working for Ag and Markets and the State Fair were disciplined and removed. They include State Fair Executive Director Dan O'Hara, First Deputy Director Robert Haggerty, General Counsel Ruth Moore and Ag and Markets Supervising Attorney Michael McCormick.

Agriculture and Markets has also change procurement procedures. The New York State Office of General Services now is in charge of all State Fair bids and purchases. The State Fair Advisory Board Audit Committee will be watching closely. An outside auditor will be brought in to audit operations and finances. Fair employees will undergo ethics training.

This report is also being forwarded to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the State Fair Advisory Board.

The fair, which began in 1841, usually runs for 12 days starting in late August on the 365-acre fairgrounds in suburban Geddes.

Read the full report.

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)