SHERIDAN – The Sheridan County Fair Association is looking forward to bigger and better things as it moves into this year’s event season with a new fairgrounds director.
Jamie Ringley began working at the fairgrounds Wednesday.
While Ringley is still educating himself about all the ins and outs of the facilities, he said his primary focus will be public outreach and cultivating relationships with the fair’s various user groups to bring more people back to the fair. These include, among others, high school and college rodeo, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo, FFA, area 4-H clubs, the Gold Buckle Club and the county fair.
“I want to coordinate with the different user groups and make them feel this is a facility for their use and a center for their needs,” Ringley said. “We want to be user-friendly as much as possible.”
Ringley will meet with user groups individually before the season begins and will strive to find middle ground when conflicts arise.
Before taking his position at the fairgrounds, Ringley worked as a sales representative at Sheridan Media for 11 months. Prior to that, he was manager of the HF Bar Ranch, a working dude ranch about 35 miles south of Sheridan. It was his 27 years of experience at the HF Bar that convinced the fair board he was the best pick.
“In that role, he coordinated events; he had probably hundreds of events and dealt with all the people who came in and visited the ranch,” board Chair Steve Eliason said. “He managed those activities and those individuals who came to the ranch. That fit really well with what we’re trying to do at the fair.”
Ringley was one of 28 applicants and six interviewees for the position. Eliason said a few candidates had some fair organizing experience, but it was limited in length and scope. Eliason said another candidate was overqualified and more suited to manage a fair in a much larger city.
“Based on an overall view of each individual and their experience, James Ringley was clearly the top pick of the entire body of applicants,” Eliason said. “He came out on top as the person who best fit and met the guidelines and criteria we set forth for the position.”
Key elements of his experience included event planning, staff management and understanding of grounds maintenance, Eliason said.
Sheridan County Fair Association board members worked together to create a list of criteria for the new director, board member Brenda Williams said. They rated the top six candidates based on that criteria and unanimously approved a motion allowing Eliason to calculate who had the highest score and offer the position to that person.
Ringley is the son of Sheridan County Commissioner Tom Ringley. Addressing community concerns about nepotism or conflict of interest, Tom Ringley said he was removed from the whole process. Eliason confirmed this saying the fair board did not talk with commissioners during the process.
“I stayed back, out of the way, because I knew there’d be a perception out there that something silly was going on, and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. I was totally hands off,” Tom Ringley said.
When his son first expressed interest in the position, Tom Ringley checked the county personnel policy and state statutes regarding nepotism to make sure everything followed proper procedure. For nepotism to occur, one of three things must happen: A person must advocate for the hiring of a relative, a person must cause a relative to be hired or a person must directly supervise a relative.
Tom Ringley said none of those three requirements has occurred. He also said it’s unreasonable to assume that one commissioner could supersede four other commissioners and a board of directors to influence such a decision.
Tom Ringley said there is no conflict of interest because Jamie Ringley works for the fair board, not the county commissioners. When the fair board approaches the county commissioners during budget season, Tom Ringley said it will be “business as usual.” He will not recuse himself from voting because five county commissioners will vote on a request from the fair board, not from the fairgrounds director.
“There’s three organizations under the county — the library, the hospital and the fairgrounds — and they all have boards of directors. They all hire their own director, or CEO in the case of the library, and the commissioners have no input into that process,” Tom Ringley said. “By design, that’s a board function to do that. We do not interfere in any case.”
According to Eliason, the board has several new ideas for the fairgrounds including snowmobile-related activities, auto shows, farm implement shows to display the latest equipment available to ranchers and possibly even concerts or other out-of-the-ordinary events.
“We want people to see the Sheridan fairgrounds as something much bigger than what it is today,” Eliason said.
Jamie Ringley agreed: “It’s an exciting prospect, and I’m here for the long term.”