Listen: Nebraska State Fair Executive Director Learning From Past and Looking Forward

Aug. 25, 2021, 11:16 a.m. ·

Bill Ogg
Nebraska State Fair Executive Director Bill Ogg - (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

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William Padmore- Nebraska Public Media New: Mr. Ogg, thank you for taking the time out to do this. The first thing I want to ask you is, how's it going? How's the fair shaping up this year?

Nebraska State Fair Executive Director Bill Ogg: It's been a crazy year, you know, with the COVID (in) 2020. And the recent history of the fair- we've got a significant turnover in staff- and so we've got a lot of great people, but they're learning their roles, and we're sorting all of that out. But I'm really excited about the 152nd, Nebraska State Fair, so much to see and do, and genuinely, it is nothing more Nebraskan, which is our theme this year. And I think we're going to celebrate that to the full extent.

William Padmore: Why are state fairs so important that they have to be put on even during a pandemic? What cultural importance do they have to Nebraska and people in the Midwest?

Bill Ogg: That's a very important word that I was going to use William- it's a reflection of our culture. There's huge economics that is involved in the fair, I mean, tremendous commerce here, a lot of what people can see, you know, the concessions, the carnival, the vendors that are selling products, but beyond that, the livestock industry and the whole economy of farm equipment and that. Tractors may not necessarily be bought and sold or combines at the fair, but our rural community will come and they'll see something and so then when that post-harvest time comes for them to make some significant equipment buying decisions, they're gonna say, "Oh, I saw that combine at the fair, and I want to check with that dealer in my area", those types of things. So huge economics. But moreover, people work so hard in, you know, constructing that quilt raising that livestock, you know, preparing that crop or that garden, or all of those competitive things that we see, and then they bring those to the fair for our enjoyment and for that wholesome competition of who's got the best rutabaga. And the best whatever, in the state of Nebraska,

William Padmore: Will there be any COVID protocols in effect this year? It doesn't sound like it's going to be scaled back like it was last year.

Bill Ogg : Well, certainly not to the extent of last year, unless advised by the State Department of Health, we will conscientiously follow whatever recommendations and or direction is given by that, you know, supervising agency. We are very conscious of public health and we certainly want our guests to not only have a great fun time here, but we certainly want it to be a safe and healthy experience as well. What we learned in 2020, are some things that we will enact and maybe indefinitely into the future, but certainly in 2021, through the cooperation of Nebraska, ethanol producers in the University of Nebraska, we've got over 120 sanitizing stations and so those will still be available. While not enforced, there, there will still be recommendations for people to just be aware and, you know, to be responsible, take care of yourself. We want you to come, but we want you to feel good about coming. Yes, we want you to pet the animals and have cotton candy smeared all over your kid's face and all of those things. But let's be responsible, let's be practical, let's wash your hands often, you know if it's a crowded, particularly an indoor environment, we might, you know, encourage some distancing, those types of things.

William Padmore: I do want to ask you briefly about the controversy that happened a little while ago with the former financial Chief-$150,000 for services not rendered...

Bill Ogg: Yes, that was all taken care of in terms of the charges being filed and that type of thing. It is still in process in the court system. We anticipate a plea bargain arrangement coming out of that. That is a legal trial involved, certainly legal. That is a civil and then there's, well, it's it's law-abiding, so it's through the estate attorney general's office. So it is not a, again, a civil matter. It is a court-related matter that we are independent from at this point. Yes, very disappointing, very frustrating.

William Padmore: When something like that does happen, from a leadership perspective, how do you process it for you? And then how do you go about healing any internal moral issues that might arise from something like that?

Bill Ogg: Excellent question. and I very, candidly don't know that I'm a master at that at all. But what's important is that we be very transparent and that we be very open about our financial status and the fair board has done a great job of that. Part of the complication two years ago, was literally not knowing the financial status of the operation. Bringing in the accounting team and frankly, some volunteers and etc, who have, you know, whatever the numbers are, I'm confident that they're accurate. it's fun right now because the numbers are so positive but that is less important to me, frankly, than just having confidence in that they're accurate. And so we are very accurate.,we're very defensible. We, the staff meet weekly, and we go through every payable. Again, that can take, you know, 30-40 minutes of precious staff time, but nonetheless, the accountability there that someone knows exactly who the vendor is and that that amount that we're paying out is accurate for every, you know, every check that we send out of here.

William Padmore: I would like to end this on a lighter note if I could. What is your favorite thing to do at the Nebraska State Fair or any state fair that you've been involved in? A favorite activity?

Bill Ogg: This may sound corny or certainly old-fashioned, but it's sincerely when I see a youth accept a well-earned award that chokes me up. And that's why we do what we do.