Russell Ag Society staff laid off, president declines second year of mandate

Elizabeth Ferguson and Lyndon Donnelly. Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

RUSSELL — Members of the Russell Agricultural Society who don’t already know will learn at their annual meeting Jan. 22 that president Lyndon Donnelly won’t complete the second half of his two-year term.

Donnelly officially announced as much during a regular board meeting before Christmas when he also said he’s prepared to carry on as past-president and remain as active with the society as he has been for the past 15 years.

He decided not to continue in the lead role after the board voted to lay off its part-time office administrator Elizabeth Ferguson until April, making it the only fair board in the region so far to remove staff as a money-saving move.

All board members voted in favour of the lay-off; Donnelly was against such action at this time and felt he lost the confidence of the board over the issue: “I might be a better background guy than a leader.”

Calling the decision “really sad”, Ferguson — who has been in the job for close to four years — was disappointed but understanding. She worried that, with the ongoing restrictions of COVID-19, other fair boards may follow suit. If there are no live fairs again this year, it will be hard to justify keeping offices staffed even part-time.

Both Donnelly and Ferguson took a moment to pay respects to former agriculture society president Jim Sullivan who passed away early this month at age 87. Jim was a supporter of every aspect of the annual fair including donating prize money.

While he believes the board decision was well-intentioned to cut expenses, Donnelly said it’s the wrong move considering its almost time to begin gearing up for the 2021 fair; bringing Ferguson back in April will have wasted too much preparation time, he stated.

Due to C-19, there was no live fair in 2020 on the new dates of Aug. 19-22; some fair activities were presented virtually, a format that Donnelly suspects will be repeated in 2021.

“If we don’t get clearance by April, there’s simply no time to stage the full fair,” he said, adding that some planning has already occurred for a virtual fair this year.

In his letter declining a second year as president, Donnelly called 2020 a year of firsts: The first pandemic the board has dealt with, the first time meetings have been held remotely, the first time annual fundraisers could not happen, the first attempt at a virtual fair, the first bottle drive to raise some funds, the first web site box office to accept payments for future events, the first time Santa has not appeared at the fairgrounds and, on a more positive note, the first time the grounds have been lit with Christmas lights.

“We were pretty busy learning new things, adapting fast on our feet; it was hard to keep up but, guess what, we did and had some fun doing it. The new board coming in looks strong and focused on continuing the tradition.”

That tradition, he emphasized, revolves around promoting agriculture and the rural way of life at a time when there’s a lot of competition from other education and entertainment events and a shortage of volunteers, the backbone of the fair.  As far as the financial picture goes, the Society has some reserves which will keep it going for the time being.

As of the annual meeting, the board will be headed by Mhairi Rowland, current vice-president. With Ferguson sidelined, executive members are drawing up the agenda and sending out notices. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Russell Curling Club and will be Zoomed.

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