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    Like a wheel of fortune, recent events surrounding the 2009 Cumberland County Fair — scheduled for Sept. 10-20 at the Crown Center Complex — have seemingly left the very name of the fair in the hands of fate.
    Robert E. Lee, a resident of Linden and a Goodyear retiree, formed a nonprofit corporation called the Cumberland County Fair on Dec. 24. 2008, apparently taking possession of the name of the agricultural fair which Cumberland County has put on since 1992.
    {mosimage} Lee’s filing through the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State has set up what something of a showdown between the county and Lee: Cumberland County Attorney Grainger Barrett mailed a letter to Lee on Jan. 28 informing him that he should “cease and desist” from attempting to use the name Cumberland County Fair, as the county “owns and asserts exclusive rights to the trademark and name Cumberland County Fair.”
    Lee maintains the county does not own the name, since it has never incorporated the title. Lee says he discovered the county had never incorporated the name in December after he went before the Crown Civic Center Commission and presented a proposal to take over the operation of the fair. For the past 11 years, Hubert Bullard, the fair manager, and the Ohio-based company J&J Amusements, have overseen the fair. Bullard’s relationship with the county was terminated in October 2008, following an incident in which several Crown employees, including then Crown CEO Paul Beard, were implicated in alleged unethical behavior. Bullard petitioned the Civic Center Commission to extend his contract through this year’s fair, but the commission voted against the request.
    Lee, who helped coordinate the fair when it fell under the auspices of the Cumberland County Jaycees, threw his hat into the ring when the commission denied Bullard’s request.
    “I was just trying to do a good thing for the county because they had never incorporated the title, which is illegal according to Article 45 of the North Carolina state statutes on agricultural societies and fairs,” said Lee, “and they shot me down.”
    Complicating matters is the fact that Lee plans to start his own fair in early September, pre-empting the county’s event. Lee told Up & Coming Weekly that he is indeed planning on putting together a fair in “early September,” though he has no set dates, location or name for the fair. However, a document received by the publisher of Up & Coming Weekly from an alleged associate of Lee said the event will be called the Cape Fear Regional Fair and will be held at the Fayetteville Motor Speedway, though no specific dates have been announced. Several telephone calls to Fayetteville Motor Speedway concerning the status of the proposed fair were not returned by press time.
    Barrett not only refutes Lee’s claims that the county is required by state law to incorporate the name Cumberland County Fair in order to use that title, but also notes that it is illegal, according to some of the same statutes cited by Lee, to hold a competing fair 30 days before or after an established county agricultural fair.
    “We (the county) have filed for and received a permit every year to operate an agricultural fair,” said Barrett. “It is illegal to call yourself a fair if you are not an agricultural fair. The Cumberland County Fair has been promoted and put on and licensed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture since 1992.”
    Barrett is referring to Article 45, statute 106516.1, which states that not only must a carnival or similar amusement receive a permit from the county’s sheriff, “no permit shall be issued if he (the sheriff) shall find the requested exhibition date is less than 30 days prior to a regularly advertised agricultural fair. Exhibition without a permit from the sheriff of the county in which the exhibition is to be held shall constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor.”
    On Jan. 8 — several weeks after Lee filed to incorporate the name Cumberland County Fair — Lee was mailed a letter by Crown Center Interim CEO Karen Long informing him that his proposal to take over operations of the fair had been turned down by the commission and that the fair contract had been awarded to J&J Amusements. According to the letter, the Crown Center is “currently in discussion with them (J&J Amusements) regarding the possibility of expanding both their role and that of the Crown Center staff for the 2009 fair.”
    Lee says that by using a company located outside Cumberland County to operate the fair, the Crown Center is taking money away from the county.
    “They need to use more local vendors so we can keep that money here,” said Lee. “And besides, the fair is supposed to be providing money for charities and such and not one dime has been given to the 4H or anyone else here in Cumberland County.”
    Bullard — who is working as a consultant with J&J Amusements for the 2009 fair — argues that the fair was never set up to make a lot of money, but to reward the citizens of Cumberland County by recognizing the hard work of the agricultural community.
    “The county fair is a showcase for local agricultural education and the livestock programs,” said Bullard. “These folks, both young and old, use the fair to show what a good job they’ve done over the year; that was our goal and I think we achieved it.”
    Bullard adds that attendance has grown from the first year of the fair from 8,000 to more than 50,000 at the 2008 event.
Long added that the fair does contribute to the local economy.
    “Some of the local counties don’t have agricultural fairs and so those folks come to our fair and spend money here,” said Long. “Also, the vendors and the people who work for the fair spend money in our restaurants and hotels.”
    Barrett said the county is currently negotiating with Lee and his lawyer, Andy Dempster, about the use of the name Cumberland County Fair and hopes to avoid legal action.

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