Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Metro hands Dozier $90,000 job

Fair board hires him without search By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer (tennessean)• March 12, 2008 Without conducting a national search or even advertising the position, the board that oversees the Tennessee State Fair gave the $90,000-a-year executive director's job to a man with plenty of political ties but no experience running fairs. The fair's board of commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to hire Buck Dozier, the former Metro council member, fire chief and mayoral candidate. Despite its name, the fair is part of Metro Nashville government. Donna Crawford, a south Nashville resident who in January wrote to city officials urging them to look nationally for a professional fair manager, said she was "just really shocked" by the fair board's choice. "I would think they would want the best person there to generate revenues," Crawford said. "I'm very concerned that they didn't take the idea of a national search." Dozier, 64, had gone back to his job at a Madison mortgage company after running for mayor last year. James Weaver, an attorney who is chairman of the five-person fair board, said Dozier is a good fit for the job and won't face the same learning curve as someone moving to Nashville would. Weaver praised Dozier's communication skills, ability to run a small government operation and passion for the job. He said Dozier proved while serving on the Metro Council — which Weaver frequently lobbies on behalf of clients — that he was "more than willing to roll up his sleeves" and tackle complex problems. And after running for mayor just seven months ago, Dozier is well known. "We could have maybe found that person in Oregon, but we found him right here in Nashville," Weaver said. "And that made more sense." Consultants hired by the fair board are studying the best long-term use of the 117-acre fairgrounds, which hosts the state fair and a flea market and rents its facilities to other groups for events. The consultants could recommend moving the fair to another Davidson County site and opening the fairgrounds property up for redevelopment a few miles south of downtown. With that uncertain future in the background, fair board members decided to look locally before they spent months searching nationally. As they asked various Metro department heads and elected officials to recommend good candidates, Dozier's name came up often, Weaver said. Janel Lacy, a spokeswoman for Mayor Karl Dean, said Dean was asked whether he thought his former rival for the mayor's office "would be a good fit," and he agreed. "Karl has said repeatedly that he thinks Buck is a solid guy and he was a good councilman and he knows Nashville, loves Nashville and would have a role to play in government," Lacy said. Lacy said Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote interviewed Dozier for the job on Feb. 20. But Weaver said he wasn't aware of that, and no one in Dean's administration pressured him to pick Dozier. "He's absolutely the right guy at the right time," Weaver said. Dozier begins today The Tennessee State Fair has been known for a history of political cronyism. Then-Mayor Phil Bredesen gradually cleaned house in the mid-1990s, replacing every board member as their terms expired. "If there was a board that was a repository of good-ol'-boy politics, that was it," Bredesen said in 1998. Dozier was a Metro councilman from 1987 to 1992 and 2003-07. He also was Nashville's fire chief from 1994 to 2000, serving under one mayor, Bredesen, before clashing with the next one, Bill Purcell, and resigning. Fair board member Katy Varney supported Dean in the mayor's race and said she doesn't know Dozier well. But she said the people she called to ask about him said consistently "that this is a man who is as honest as the day is long and completely trustworthy." Dozier, who starts work today, will face the task of making the annual fair and the fairgrounds more relevant as surrounding counties such as Wilson and Williamson put on popular fairs. The Nashville native said he will oversee 17 full-time employees and a $4 million annual budget. "We're all kind of looking with some excitement to what we can do there," Dozier said. "Times have changed, and we want to make sure we're on the cutting edge." Jim Tucker, CEO of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions in Springfield, Mo., said the fair board's decision to keep its search close to home was not unusual. In fact, the association often advises fair leaders to do that because there's a shortage of qualified executives around the country, he said. The Georgia National Fair, which says it hosted more than 443,000 people in 11 days last fall, has been looking for a new director for four months, Tucker said. "It's really hard to find folks right now," he said. "A big part of running a fair is to have someone who knows the community."

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