On the advice of County Attorney Clyde Albright, Sheriff Terry Johnson reversed his earlier position and has allowed a carnival to open in east Burlington against the wishes of county fair operators Russell and Jeanette Isley.
Citing a state law that directs sheriffs to deny a permit to carnivals and similar amusements that want to set up shop within 30 days of a county’s “regularly advertised agricultural fair,” the Isleys initially convinced Johnson to prevent the Powers Great American Midways from setting up on the northeast corner of Graham-Hopedale Road and North Church Street.
But sheriff’s spokesman Randy Jones said the sheriff is taking Albright’s advice “after new information apparently came to light.”
The carnival set up Monday and will run through Sunday. The county fair will open May 5 and continue through May 10.
The sheriff initially sided with the fair after the Burlington City Council rejected a similar request from the Isleys to deny the carnival a city permit two weeks ago.
During that meeting, Jeanette Isley said she kept the dates of her fair secret to keep carnivals from setting up around the same time. Such carnivals take customers from her fair, which she said is in danger of “extinction.”
John Paisley, an attorney who represents the owners of the former Western Electric parking lot the carnival leases, said the Isleys’ decision to move the fair from August to May and wait until April 8 to notify a state fair association of the new dates runs counter to the law’s requirement that a fair be regularly advertised.
Paisley said he wrote Albright a “lengthy letter” on the subject.
Albright said Paisley also pointed out another state law that requires the county commissioners to give the sheriff notice 60 days before a county fair if they refuse to allow a carnival to operate in the county.
“I agree with him. He’s convinced me,” Albright said Monday. “The sheriff, in my opinion, cannot refuse” to allow the carnival to operate because Isley “changed her dates.”
Based on this new information, Johnson will follow Albright’s advice, sheriff’s spokesman Randy Jones said.
Attempts to reach the Isleys on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Isley family member Rusty Isley asked the county commissioners about the situation during the board’s meeting Monday night, and was instructed to speak with Albright afterward.
Carnival owner Les Powers said he has brought a midway to Burlington for 12 years. In that time, he said he has never had a problem with the Dogwood Festival in Mebane, which operates around the same time.
On the other hand, Jeanette Isley “has an ax to grind” against him, Powers said. “It seems like every time I try to do something (in Burlington) this lady tries to block it.”