Athens Mayor Steve Patterson sent a letter to the Athens County Fair Board last week warning the organization that if it continues to allow the sale of Confederate flag memorabilia during the annual county fair, the city might stop doing business with the Fair Board.
Patterson’s Feb. 13 letter came attached to an agreement renewing the annual lease the city signs with the Fair Board to utilize the Fairgrounds’ horse stables for the Athens Police Department’s mounted operations (usually used for crowd control in and around uptown).
In the letter, Patterson noted that the vote last year among the Fair’s Agricultural Society members to continue to allow the sale of Confederate flag merchandise is a roadblock to the city continuing to do business with the Fair Board. The NEWS reported last November that a total of 124 members of the Agricultural Society voted against the fair implementing a vendors policy change that would have prohibited the sale (and display) of Confederate flags and merchandise, compared to just 33 members voting in favor of changing that policy.
In the letter, Patterson – who previously asked the Fair to consider ending sales of the memorabilia in question – said that those sales run “counter to the values of the city of Athens.”
“While opinions vary, the Confederate battle flag has come to symbolize racism and divisiveness in America among many of its citizens,” Patterson wrote. “At the very least, it is symbolic of the treasonous actions taken by the Southern states to secede from the Union and take up arms in 1860. Many Athens County residents fought and died to prevent the destruction of the nation…”
Patterson wrote that the vote mentioned above from last year was simply a way for the Fair Board to “sidestep a politically sensitive issue.”
“The issue is not going away, and we request you reconsider your decision going into the 2020 county fair,” Patterson wrote. “The historic business relationship and leases between the city and Agricultural Society have been mutually beneficial, but the city of Athens will re-evaluate extending them in the future based on your actions.”
Fair Board President Calvin Jarvis did not respond to a voicemail left on his phone Tuesday asking about Patterson’s letter.
Patterson said in a follow-up interview Monday that the Fair Board’s decision not to ban Confederate flag memorabilia sales is causing the city to “re-think” its lease of the horse stalls, which represents about $1,000-$2,000 in income per year for the fair, as well as its shared lease agreement of parking spaces at the Fairgrounds. That agreement is more financially lucrative, bringing in about $18,000 to the city per year and a similar amount to the Fair Board. That five-year parking lease agreement is up for renewal next year.
Patterson said the city will continue leasing the horse stalls this year, but will seriously consider whether or not to continue the parking agreement next year – and the lease of the horse stalls – if the vendors policy allowing the sale of Confederate flag memorabilia is not changed to disallow those sales.
The Athens County Commissioners last year asked the Fair Board to similarly ban sales of those products. The Commissioners in their letter noted that the Ohio State Fair Board and the Warren County Fair both have banned the sale of Confederate flag-related “symbols and merchandise,” although whether those bans are actually enforced is an open question.
Fair Board members have consistently declined to comment on the record about the Confederate flag product sales since this controversy cropped up last summer.