A new manager will soon take over the Ventura County Fair, which in recent years has been beset with a struggle between those hanging onto tradition and others pushing for change.
Michael Paluszak will assume the post vacated Tuesday by Jeremy Ferris, who endured a campaign for his resignation during four controversial years as manager.
Paluszak, who has managed fairs and parks for 13 years, "has a clear picture of the commitment to tradition that is this fair," said Teri Raley of Creative Images, the fair's public relations firm. "He's in harmony with that philosophy."
The nine-member fair board voted unanimously to hire Paluszak, one of 93 candidates who applied from across the nation. The position pays between $52,220 and $62,112 a year.
Paluszak now manages the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee in Angels Camp, an agricultural town about 90 miles southeast of Sacramento.
"It's a new opportunity," Paluszak said. "It's a larger fair and it offers new challenges."
The Ventura fair's budget last year was about $6.5 million, while the Calaveras County fair operated on $500,000.
Board members said they were impressed with the homework that Paluszak did before his interview. He had studied the budget and boned up on plans to renovate the fairgrounds, including a proposed $20-million exhibition hall that would double as a convention center.
The board also noted a program Paluszak introduced at a previous job in Las Vegas that set aside special time for physically and mentally handicapped children to use the fairgrounds, Raley said. The Ventura County Fair has been considering a similar program.
"That sort of thing was almost serendipity," she said.
Paluszak was executive director and fair manager at the Las Vegas Jaycees State Fair from 1978 to 1985. He worked as associate general manager at the Legend City Amusement Park in Tempe, Ariz., from 1977 to 1978.
Paluszak will assume duties in December when he moves to Ventura with his wife, Noreen, and 2-year-old daughter, Ivy.
Art Amelio, fair assistant manager, will serve as interim director.
Ferris, who was hired in March, 1985, announced his resignation over the summer. He had pledged a three- to five-year commitment and has not said what he will do next.
Ferris was criticized by Save the Fair Committee for firing longtime home arts superintendent Edna Mills in 1987. The committee called for his resignation and circulated petitions demanding Mills' reinstatement.
The group also stumped for the fair's return to the traditional October schedule. Ferris moved it to August to attract more people.
Richard Henniger, one of the most vocal members of Save the Fair Committee, said he wants a "fair director, not a dictator."
Henniger said of the new appointment: "I'm pleased. At least if there's a change maybe we have a chance."