An agreement is being worked out with partners of the Montezuma County Fair in order to bolster the local 4-H Club program.
The fair board and Colorado State University Extension office have grappled with how rules and procedures should be applied to 4-H events at the fair.
Divisiveness over the issues is blamed for a drop in 4-H participation by youths and families the past few years. Enrollment went from 256 participants last year to 198 this year.
Montezuma County commissioners appointed an extension advisory board to resolve the problems. The various parties struck a conciliatory tone during a three-hour workshop and public comment session held Dec. 18.
4-H leaders and fair officials said fences have been mended, and they encouraged families who have dropped out because of past experiences to give the program another chance.
“What has gone on in the past will stop,” said advisory board member Linda Odell. “Cooperation between the extension and the fair board cannot be emphasized enough.”
In an effort to bring families back, the deadline for signing up for the 2018 4-H fair events was postponed a month to Jan. 31. However, those interested in 4-H are highly encouraged to enroll as soon as possible so they don’t miss important meetings and information in January.
The advisory board presented a draft memorandum of agreement that more clearly defines the roles of the fair board and the CSU extension office, which runs the state-regulated 4-H program.
“We need to work together and do right by these kids,” said advisory board member Jan Sennhenn. “People need to put aside their personal differences, act like professionals, be more transparent and avoid favoritism.”
An anonymous letter writer read to the public, along with a parent in the audience, stated that there has been retaliation, or fear of it, against a child’s 4-H project if a procedure is questioned or criticized.
Officials said such behavior will not be tolerated, and reports will be investigated.
Volunteer policy for the fair also was discussed among the group.
The group proposed that policies be different on the requirement of background checks between 4-H program volunteers and those volunteers helping out for non-4-H program and fair board events, such as the open class.
All 4-H volunteers are required to have a background check, per state 4-H rules. It was proposed that regular fair volunteers for fair board and non-4-H events, including those in the open class, do not require a background check.
However, the superintendent for the open class, who is chosen by the fair board, will require a background check, and that person is responsible for their volunteers.
Odell said all the defined roles of the fair board and extension office outlined in the memorandum of agreement will be enforced, and will be reviewed every year.
“We extended the deadline this year and developed an MOU to get back the trust of the public,” Odell said. “We are starting with a new slate with improved communication, and that spirit of cooperation will hopefully bring people back.”
4-H director Andrea Jeter said enrollment has begun to pick up.