Issues surrounding the lease of the local fairgrounds and the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse remain unresolved almost two months after the lease expired.
County Judge Bill McElhaney informed commissioners Sept. 16 that the long-term lease of the fairgrounds would not be renewed with the Posse, but as of Friday, the county still did not have the keys to the facility. The lease actually expired Aug. 1, and negotiations with the Sheriff’s Posse are at an apparent standstill.
Posse President Russell Stephens told the Messenger Friday that his group is working to keep its lease on the facility.
“We have attorneys working on this, and we’re trying to do the right thing,” Stephens said. “I don’t think we’d be in this situation if we’d had a little more openness and communication a year ago about what they had planned on doing. This was a blindside.”
After announcing the lease would not be renewed, commissioners appointed a Wise County Fairgrounds Committee to oversee the negotiations and transition of the property. Committee members include Commissioners Danny White and Kevin Burns, Sheriff David Walker and Public Works Administrator Tom Goode.
They met with Posse representatives Sept. 18.
Although the committee can’t make final decisions on negotiations with the Posse, they can make recommendations for approval by commissioners. Commissioners can’t vote on anything related to the lease or the Posse until it is an agenda item.
The issue is not an agenda item for Monday, but it could be discussed under “county committee reports,” since a committee was formed to oversee the transition, but no action can be taken to resolve the issue until the next meeting.
Stephens said he was concerned about the Posse’s future.
“We’ve been down there since 1955,” he said. “I’m worried about the Posse. The facilities do belong to (us) … we need to work out what we can to make sure we do what’s in the best interest of both parties.”
The county owns the land, and the Posse built the buildings, rodeo arena and show barn.
Stephens said he knows the county will upgrade the facility, but he wants written assurance that the Posse will still be allowed to use it.
“There are many things we can do down there if they would work with us,” he said. “There’s a lot of wonderful things that the Sheriff’s Posse does down there, and it’s being overlooked.”
Stephens said the group gives scholarships, and they also allow any youth organization to use the facilities for free.
“The buildings were built for the youth to use, and I want to make sure they continue that way,” he said.
Stephens did say that if the county is going to take over the water and electric bills and help with upkeep, it might free up the Posse’s finances to do more, but he’s also concerned because without the lease they lose a revenue source.
Stephens said they’ve been working with Goode, and the Public Works Department began some maintenance on the property this week.
“There’s a plus side of this,” Stephens admitted, “but I am concerned about the Posse.
“I want to make sure we have something in writing,” he said. “Something to insure that in a year or two we won’t be weeded out. … I hate for them to say, ‘The lease is up and you need to give us the keys and leave,’ and six months later another organization get the judge’s preference and moves in.”
At the Sept. 16 meeting McElhaney said the county could no longer offer long-term leases to any entity.
“Statutorily, we can’t do that,” he said.
McElhaney did not return a call by press time Friday.
Stephens said he’s tried for “well over a year” to talk to the judge about the lease.