Fair worker claims unfair firing
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | August 28,2014
A 25-year veteran of the Vermont State Fair said she has been dismissed due to her supposed connections to ousted fair president Richard Rivers.
“I don’t think it was a fair thing to do,” said 84-year-old Marguerite Ponton, who has spent much of fair week in the treasurer’s office for the last quarter-century. “I have not seen or talked to Richard since last year’s fair. Yes, we are friends with his family, because my husband’s parents are close friends with his grandparents.”
Ponton said her duties in the treasurer’s office, for which she was initially paid $7.50 an hour and later $8.50, included getting cash drawers set up, recording and preparing for deposit money collected at the bathrooms, making change for vendors, preparing payments from bills for deposit and some filing.
“This year and last year, I was supposed to work four hours a day because of my age,” Ponton said.
Ponton said she was told last week, after having put in five volunteer hours, that she would not be asked back to work in the treasurer’s office this year, and that it was it was because of her connection to Rivers. The fair opens at 5 p.m. Friday and runs through Sept. 7.
The board of trustees of the Rutland County Agricultural Society, which runs the fair, voted earlier this year to remove Rivers as president and dismiss him as fair manager after the discovery of a substantial debt and an IRS lien on the fairgrounds.
“I don’t think Richard stole money like they’re kind of indicating,” she said — though the RCAS attorney has specifically said there were no allegations of theft.
“I know Richard did some things wrong,” Ponton said. “... I don’t think the board handled it right when they discovered this because he was on vacation and he wasn’t even there to defend himself. I can’t say I’m on one side or the other.”
While Ponton professes neutrality, one of her daughters, former fair trustee Deborah Bennick, had a terse exchange with RCAS President Don Chioffi at last week’s trustees meeting.
She asked why Rivers’ attorney had not been allowed to attend. Another daughter of Ponton, Michelle Farmer, has since created a Facebook page calling for the boycott of the fair.
Ponton herself had some strong words for the trustees.
“This board is not God almighty as they like to think,” she said. “Some of those people are wonderful people. They are working hard. Some of them I just don’t trust.”
Ponton said she was told the decision was made by Bob Bearor, RCAS vice president and fair manager. Bearor could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
RCAS President Don Chioffi at first minimized Ponton’s dismissal.
“Every single year is a brand new year at the Vermont State Fair for every administration,” he said. “Every year is a brand new year for who is hired and who isn’t hired, and there is no entitlement to employment.”
However Chioffi noted that Rivers is expected to bring a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the RCAS — a contractually required mediation session is currently pending — and said that decisions on hiring had to be made “in the best legal interest” of the fair.
“You’re either in the group or you’re outside suing it,” he said.
Chioffi admitted that divisions between the trustees and Rivers’ supporters were “part of” Ponton’s dismissal, adding that he would need to have his “head examined” if he allowed someone from Rivers’ camp access to the treasurer’s office.
But he denied there was any purge of people supportive of or connected to Rivers.
As an example, Chioffi said that despite rumors to the contrary, Roxie’s Fries, run by Rivers’ aunt, will return to the fair as always.
“There’s people all over these grounds that worked for Richard who are working here,” he said.
“I keep trying to emphasize, and for some reason, some thickheads don’t seem to get it, but there is no animosity,” he said. “These are business decisions that have to be made in the best interest of the fair.”