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As Seen In The Times Herald

Agricultural society lawsuit is settled
Board must post meeting minutes, amended bylaws

The St. Clair County Agricultural Society has changed its website to meet the terms of the settlement of a lawsuit against the society and 18 members of its board of directors.

Barbara Yockey, lawyer for 4-H parents Amy and Bryan Balon and Cindy Leone, said the agricultural society recently finished making the changes agreed to in the settlement of a lawsuit. The lawsuit accused the fair board of defamation, not complying with a Freedom of Information Act request, and violating the fair board's own bylaws.

Yockey said neither side admitted liability, but the settlement will lead to more transparency within the society.

Yockey said the settlement required the board to:

  •  Make changes to its bylaws regarding agricultural society membership, and election to the fair board.
  • Post on its website downloadable and printable copies of the society's bylaws, articles of incorporation, minutes of the board's monthly public meeting, and membership forms.
  • Submit a letter to Amy and Bryan Balon withdrawing the fair board's 2012 discipline of the family, and advising them that their pig at the 2012 fair was negative for any illegal substance.

The St. Clair County Agricultural Society's main project each year is to put on the St. Clair County 4-H and Youth Fair.

The Balons and Leone filed the lawsuit against the fair board when the board eliminated the way people could become members of the agricultural society.

Previously, 4-H members would become members of the group by purchasing a week-long pass for the fair. When the fair switched to tokens, that avenue for membership closed, Yockey has said.

The settlement required the society to amend its bylaws to allow a year's membership to anyone at least 18 years of age who purchases a weekly admission to the fair, or pays $25.

That is what they were truly trying to get because that was what was taken away from them,  Yockey said.

Another amendment to the bylaws creates a procedure for someone to submit his or her name for election to the fair board.

The new provision requires agricultural society members to submit their names for fair board at the society's September meeting, and fill out a biography on the website by Oct.1 to get their names on the November ballot for fair board.

The original lawsuit claimed the fair board's failure to appoint Cindy Leone to the board of directors was arbitrary and capricious.

The Balons also made a claim of defamation in the lawsuit.

They said the fair board harmed their family's reputation when the board put the family on probation after testing their son's pig for illegal substances at the 2012 fair.

The drug tests came back negative for illegal substances, Yockey said, but the results were not released to clear the Balons  name and the family was put on probation.

Because there was an aspirin given to the animal, the board decided they had acted improperly,  Yockey said.

Yockey said the defamation claim and a claim that the fair board did not comply with a Freedom of Information Act request were not addressed directly.

But Yockey said the posting of the group's minutes online will aid transparency, and the letter from the board to the Balons clears the family's name.

Yockey said the Balons and Leone received no money in the settlement.

The Balons and Cindy Leone financed this themselves,” Yockey said.

They really saw a wrong that needed to be corrected and they tried for a long time to get the board to correct it and this is what they had to do.

Yockey said the changes to the bylaws and the availability of fair board documents will lead to a more transparent process.

The most important thing was to create an ag society where people could be welcomed and they had the clear ability to become members and a very direct and efficient way for them to run for board positions if they wished to, Yockey said.

Fair board president Rob Usakowski said the board is focused on getting ready for the St. Clair County 4-H and Youth Fair in July.

Our primary focus has been really on that, Usakowski said.

Hopefully, our board can work with people who have concerns moving forward.


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