Rodeo comes close to being cancelled

By Eric Butler: CNJ Correspondent

The annual Pioneer Days Rodeo will get started Thursday as scheduled. But there were a few anxious moments at Tuesday’s Curry County Commission meeting.

County officials said the event was in danger of being cancelled because the event organizer — Curry County Mounted Patrol — had not signed a contract and provided proof of liability insurance.

At the end of the session, only seconds before adjournment, Mounted Patrol Capt. Rusty Barnes entered the meeting room.

“We’ll go ahead and sign this, under duress, so we can get this rodeo on,” Barnes told the Commission. “This would be a total economic disaster if it didn’t happen.”

No deadline had been given for the Mounted Patrol to sign the contract.

“Legally, if they don’t sign the contract, they’re not going to use the facility this weekend,” Curry County attorney Stephen Doerr told commissioners.

The first night of the 2007 Pioneer Days PRCA rodeo is scheduled to begin Thursday at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena.

Despite the fact that the Mounted Patrol’s name is on the facility at the fairgrounds, one commissioner emphasized that it didn’t mean the group had any kind of inherent entitlement.

“I don’t know how it (the arena) came into the hands of the county, but it all comes back to all of us (legally),” said Commissioner Tim Ashley, pointing to the table where he and four other commissioners were sitting.

Doerr said the policy of making renters of county property sign a contract and provide proof of liability insurance stemmed partially from a recent lawsuit. A participant showing an animal at the Curry County Fair brought the suit after claiming she injured a finger in some mesh fencing at the fairgrounds, according to Doerr.

“It was results of incidents like this that brought this to a head,” said Doerr, who also emphasized that the Mounted Patrol was not the target of the new policy instituted by the county within the last year.

Commissioner Frank Blackburn spoke in defense of the Mounted Patrol before Barnes arrived at the end of the meeting.

“I think the problem is that these volunteer groups aren’t used to this. To them, this is a major change,” Blackburn said. “I don’t think we should be too pushy about this.”

County Manager Dick Smith said $1 million of liability insurance is required to hold events on county property.

The county pays for insurance at county-sponsored events, such as the Curry County Fair in August.

Smith estimated the cost to be around $500 over a few days.

But money wasn’t the sticking point for the Mounted Patrol-sponsored rodeo, according to Smith, who believed the liability insurance for this year’s rodeo had already been paid for by the group.

“(Monday), when I talked to the president (Barnes), he said, ‘We’re not signing the contract as a matter of principle,’” the county manager said.

“I think it was a very calculated move to wait until the last minute,” said Smith, who also said he would take responsibility for not having addressed the issue earlier.