Foundation returns to its roots amid controversy

State audit shows former Tulare County Fair CEO Pamela Fyock inappropriately funneled funding to the fair from the Tulare County Fair Foundation and herself

TULARE – A local agriculture nonprofit has returned to its roots in an attempt to distance itself from controversy surrounding its former CEO. 

The Tulare County Foundation for Ag Education and Youth, formerly the Tulare County Fair Foundation, was mentioned in a recent audit for its inappropriate financial relationship with the Tulare County Fair and Pamela Fyock, who at one time served as CEO of both the foundation and the fair it supports. Fyock was dismissed as acting CEO of the Sacramento County Fair by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which oversees county fairs through its Division of Marketing Services’ Fairs & Exposition, after the audits were completed in 2021. Fyock’s firing comes just three months before the Sacramento County Fair is slated to open on May 26.

CDFA conducted audits of both fairs after a Tulare County Fair board member raised concerns about Fyock issuing checks to herself without documentation or approval from the board. The audit also revealed Fyock paid herself for her volunteer position as CEO of the foundation while getting raises as CEO of the Fair for its financial improvement thanks to major investment funded by the nonprofit foundation. 

While the foundation declined to comment on the audit, Foundation President Geneva Orlopp did provide some background on the history of the organization and the reason for its name change following Fyock’s departure in 2020.

The roots of the foundation date back to 1983 when it was formed as the 24th District Agriculture Association Foundation, according to articles of incorporation filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, with the purpose “to promote youth activities in agriculture and to engage in agriculture education of young people.” 

Orlopp said she revived the foundation in 2012 under the name Friends of the Tulare County Fair after the Show Barn had been condemned and in 2014 when the state announced it was cutting funding from fairs across the state. Fyock served as the CEO of both the Tulare County Fair and the Foundation from 2015-2019, when the foundation’s primary focus shifted from supporting kids to supporting the Fair itself. 

After Fyock’s departure to take the job as CEO of the Sacramento County Fair in January 2020, the foundation changed its name to the Tulare County Foundation for Ag Education and Youth, according to an amendment Orlopp and board secretary Anneka DeBoer filed with the state on Aug. 28, 2020. 

Orlopp said the name change had been in the works four years prior to filing the paperwork because of “confusion in the community.” She said the foundation and its board kept getting calls for the Fair itself, a similar problem experienced by local hospital foundations.

“Our other names had fair in it and there was just confusion,” Orlopp said. “It got to be time consuming, so we just wanted to kind of simplify it all for us.”

Much of that confusion can be attributed to Fyock’s dual role as CEO of both organizations, as evidenced by the foundation’s tax filings and joint press releases issued by Fyock during her tenure in Tulare County. Fyock was an obvious choice to lead fundraising efforts after turning around the finances of the Sacramento County Fair prior to her arrival in Tulare County. And the plan was working.

From 2014-2019, the foundation raised $573,865 from its annual gala, concert series, rodeo and other fundraising events on the fairgrounds. The foundation also generated $616,379 in revenue through beverage sales at the fair and rodeo. This allowed the foundation to donate $840,962 to assist in the construction of the Watering Hole and the repair of a “show barn,” where FFA and 4-H livestock judging and auctions are held, on the fairgrounds. 

The problem is none of the amounts could be legitimately verified by the state, according to a recent audit by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which oversees county fairs through its Division of Marketing Services’ Fairs & Exposition. “However, our office is unable to determine the appropriateness of this amount without a written contract,” the audit stated.

In its response to the audit, which ultimately resulted in Fyock’s dismissal as Sacramento County Fair CEO in January, the Tulare County Fair said it will request CDFA conduct an audit of the Tulare County Foundation for Ag Education and Youth, formerly the Tulare County Fair Foundation, for the period of Jan. 1, 2017 through Dec. 31, 2019.

The audit goes on to state Fyock was paid for services by two nonprofits, both of which provided services to the TC Fair, even though she claimed she was a volunteer for them and did not approve the compensation through the state between 2015 and 2019. While the nonprofits are not named, the amounts divulged in the audit for “Nonprofit #1” match the amounts of “executive compensation” listed in the tax documents. According to the audit, Fyock was paid $92,600 over six years by the foundation in addition to her six-figure annual salary as Fair CEO, which increased 15% between 2015-2019. 

According to auditors, her compensation from the nonprofits was a violation of Food and Agriculture Code (FAC) Section 4060, which states an “employee shall not be compensated by the nonprofit corporation when that state officer or employee acts in an official capacity with regard to any contract made with the nonprofit corporation.” The code also prohibits any compensation to a state employee that is not approved by the Division of Fairs and Expositions prior to payment. Auditors said no documentation was provided showing that there was ever a written contract between the nonprofits and Fyock or that the compensation was ever approved by the state.

The Fair confirmed it “had not had any dealings with non-profit #1 or #2 since 2019.” Auditors recommended the Fair look into nonprofit payments made to Fyock. The Fair said it has asked CDFA for legal guidance on a “remedy” for the issue. 

Orlopp said the foundation would not be issuing any statements or addressing the findings of the audit. 

“I would prefer not to talk about that,” Orlopp said. “We want to keep this positive.”

Refocus on Youth
Since its rebirth in 2020, the foundation has gone back to its roots in the “agriculture education of young people.” Over the past two-year’s The Foundation has provided more than $105,000 in grants and assisted 238 youth with FFA and 4-H projects. On March 12, the organization held its first in-person fundraiser in three years, dubbed “An Evening in the Wild Wild West,” attended by 350 supporters who raised another $200,000.

“As a youth I was not directly involved in Agriculture, however, as an adult my career is dependent on Agriculture,” foundation board member  Brett Lew said. “There are many youth who would not be exposed to Agriculture or have the financial means to participate in the extracurricular activities of 4-H and FFA if it wasn’t for organizations like the Tulare County Foundation for Ag Education & Youth.” 

Orlopp said community and agriculture industry support is driving the Foundation’s efforts to reset grant goals and look towards a more robust set of projects. This year’s grant priorities will be expanded beyond individual youth projects and will include investments for middle school FFA startup costs, youth-oriented Ag events and support for existing ag programs. 

“Foundation volunteers will be reaching out to area 4-H and FFA programs over the next several months to encourage youth and programs to take advantage of the 2022 Grant window which will open July 1,” Orlopp said. 

For more information on the foundation, visit

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