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Scot Meader, shown here at the fairgrounds in 2005, announced his resignation Wednesday as manager of the Western Montana Fair. MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

In the end, there were too many fences to mend for Scot Meader.

The embattled manager of Missoula County's fair and fairgrounds resigned on Wednesday but said he will lend his successor any help he can to pull off the 2010 Western Montana Fair.

The county will pay Meader a year's salary of $71,776, according to his attorney, Matt Thiel.

Meader's last day of work will be Friday.

"He wasn't forced out, but he did decide it was the best thing to do for himself and the county," Thiel said. "Scot felt like he's had a very successful run, he's made a lot of improvements to the fair, and there's no sense trying to continue to work with these distractions."

The county accepted the resignation as the best outcome for all involved. Thiel and Steve Johnson, the county's director of human resources, completed the buyout agreement Wednesday.

Meader is near the end of the second year of a three-year contract that is due to expire in February 2011.

County officials said with the fair and fairgrounds planning process entering a stage when it's critical to get the public on board, it's time to make a fresh start.

"Both parties acknowledge that it would be difficult to move the fair forward with the current management structure," said Dale Bickell, the county's chief administrative officer. "I think Scot saw that."

"I don't know for sure how we got to this point, but it seems to me there is a need for someone new to come in and get people back together," Commissioner Bill Carey said. "There seems to be a great deal of splintering and forgoing of participation in the fair, for whatever reason."

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An interim fair manager will be named in the next few days to help get through the 2010 fair in August. Buck Smith, a trustee for 16 years on the fair board that was disbanded in 2007, said he has volunteered his services and will meet with Johnson and Bickell on Thursday to work out the terms.

At the same time, a search that might be national in scope will be conducted for the permanent post of fair manager, which Meader assumed in November 2002.

"It's an important position," Bickell said. "We want to get the right person in there to not only manage the fair but to plan for the future of the fair, the fairgrounds and the whole program."

The challenge, he added, will be to find someone who can "make sure we have enough community support for that plan, and to be able to start a long-term interpretation of it."

Commissioner Michele Landquist said the county and Meader are parting amicably.

"He's always told us that he is all about Missoula County and our fair, so he needed time to figure out how he would move on in one direction or another, and which direction was really putting the interests of the county and the fair in the best light," she said.

Landquist said the recent spate of reports and accusations concerning Meader's behavior at an event in Great Falls last January and his subsequent dealings with the fair's rodeo committee and a women's rodeo clinic/fundraiser were marginal reasons for the separation.

The planning firm of Crandall Arambula is due in town on Feb. 10 to wrap up a yearlong study of the future of the fair and fairgrounds.

"We were already trying to step back and look at the whole picture and the whole structure of the fair, in terms of Scot's job title, his job description and what the county's needs are," Landquist said.

She said public participation in the planning process has been "somewhat disappointing."

"And most disappointing probably has been the people who work as superintendents at the fair," Landquist said. "They're the people who really live, eat and breathe the fair, and it has been sort of difficult to light an inspirational fire under those folks to be more involved in the process."

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Accusations of recent weeks centered around Meader's behavior at a convention at the 2009 Montana Pro Rodeo circuit finals in Great Falls in which he became extremely inebriated and is said to have inappropriately touched two women.

Shannone Hart of Missoula, a co-director of Chics n Chaps, which raises money for breast cancer victims in western Montana, said she was one of those women.

Both Hart and members of the Missoula Stampede committee made public their disenchantment with Meader in the days after he informed the rodeo committee its services would no longer be needed.

Meader and county officials said they disassociated the fair with the Stampede committee after the committee's Kyle Stensrud and Kory Mytty usurped their authority last month in Las Vegas, negotiating an agreement with Wrangler to co-sponsor the Missoula rodeo.

Meader and marketing specialist Gretchen Kirchmann were also in Las Vegas and Meader said they had scheduled a joint meeting with Wrangler and the rodeo committee, only to find the rodeo and the sponsor had already come to terms.

Commissioners were upset after they found out Wrangler wouldn't listen to a presentation that Kirchmann had put together that was designed to benefit the fair.

"There's not a good outcome to this situation, and unfortunately, due to an apparent lack of communication, a lot of people had to go through a very difficult situation," Stensrud said Wednesday. "A lot of hurt was caused unintentionally, and I'm glad that it's hopefully behind us and we can move forward as a community and look forward to this year's fair and rodeo."

Meader referred all queries Wednesday to Thiel, who said the unsubstantiated and unfiled charges against Meader by Stensrud and Hart, and the Missoulian's coverage of them, have been "incredibly frustrating for Scot and the county."

"I'm pretty angry about it," Thiel said. "The guy was the county employee of the year in 2007. He is the only certified fair executive in the state, and he just received a regional award for fair manager of the year. He's a competent person. He might have made a mistake by having a few too many beers in one instance, but he did not deserve what happened to him here."

Nonetheless, Meader "is not going to cut and run," Thiel said. "He will stay and be available to the interim fair manager and will do whatever he has to do to help with the 2010 fair."

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

 

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