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Letter urges Fair Board to maintain swap meet contract

Attorney claims the decision to dissolve Tel Phil Enterprises' deal to operate the Orange County Market Place is based on false premises, a politicized situation.

October 25, 2011|By Joseph Serna

COSTA MESA — An attorney for the Orange County Fairgrounds' weekend swap meet operator urged in a letter that the Fair Board reconsider its decision to terminate his client's lease.

The letter, sent this week to the board by attorney Ruben Smith, argued that the decision made to seek firms other than Tel Phil Enterprises to run the Orange County Market Place was based on false premises about Tel Phil's financial performance and the politicized situation surrounding the failed effort to sell the fairgrounds.

"I believe there are just a couple members of the board that are resigned to go forward with this plan, no matter what," said Tel Phil President Jeff Teller. "I think there are others who have a great sense of fair play, who will do what's right."

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In a 6-3 vote last month, the board voted to dissolve its contract with Tel Phil, which has run the swap meet for 42 years. Fair Board members said at the time that they broke the deal because of slumping revenues and a poor working relationship with Teller.

At its Thursday meeting, the board will be looking to issue a request for proposals (RFP) from other contractors interested in running the swap meet.

In his letter, Smith tries to clarify about half a dozen recent small conflicts between Tel Phil and the board. The disagreements ranged from the swap meet sweeping fees Tel Phil incurs on weekends to the Fair Board suddenly charging Tel Phil for using fairground restrooms.

In every instance, what the fairgrounds' attorneys told the board was wrong, Smith argued.

"They made the decision to terminate the lease based on false information," he said Tuesday.

Teller and Smith argued that the Fair Board's actions are personal, that they're based on Teller's role in the last two years campaigning against the sale of the fairgrounds. He and others have criticized the Fair Board, which at one time created a nonprofit group to buy the 150-acre property in Costa Mesa.

The letter glosses over two themes the Fair Board discussed in its decision: That the swap meet has seen consistently declining revenues in recent years, and that the relationship with Teller is irreparable.

"Unfortunately, the economy we're living in is very democratic. It's affecting everyone," Teller said Tuesday. "All it takes is anyone driving up Main Street, USA, to see that we're all struggling through the worst economic cycle this country has seen since the Great Depression. We're not immune nor are any of the businesses in the Market Place."

Teller pointed to a 4% increase in revenue so far this year as a sign that things are turning around.

"We've gone through 42 years of cycles," Teller said. "When we've prospered, the [fairgrounds] have prospered."

Teller needs only to convince two more board members to have a majority and possibly a breath of life into his contract.

Fair Board Chairwoman Kristina Dodge appeared on the fence last month and ultimately decided against killing Teller's contract when attorneys confirmed Tel Phil was not in default of its lease to operate the swap meet.

No other board members last month appeared to be as undecided.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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