Sheriff Terry Johnson says he won’t grant a permit allowing the Powers Great American Midways to operate a carnival in Burlington from April 16 through April 25.
Johnson said he made his decision Thursday afternoon after consulting with County Attorney Clyde Albright.
The move is the latest development in a dispute between Les Powers and Jeanette Isley. Powers is the president of Powers Great American Midways; Isley and her family run the Alamance County Fair, which is scheduled for May 5-10.
On Tuesday, Isley asked the Burlington City Council to reject a city permit request from Powers.
Isley said she moved her fair from August after making arrangements with another carnival operator and securing a state license in January, but kept her plans “secret” because an announcement would have encouraged rival carnivals to come to the county around the same time.
Six carnival operators refused her requests to come in the fall; the operator she contracted done extensive billboard advertising for May and she can’t change the dates, Isley said.
Carnivals like Powers drain customers from her fair and don’t return any dollars to the community, she added.
Council members sympathized with her plight, but voted 4-0 to grant the permit after saying the carnival company met the city’s safety and insurance liability requirements.
The sheriff refused her requests to intervene, Isley told the council before the vote.
Councilman David Huffman said the city ordinance had nothing to do with competitive issues or the state law and suggested Isley again seek relief from the sheriff.
Johnson said Thursday he took a wait-and-see position regarding Isley’s request, in hopes that the Burlington council would resolve the situation by denying Powers a permit.
Isley and her family have run the fair for 19 years, she said, mostly in the fall. Last year it ran in August.
AMI and Hopedale Properties own the former Western Electric parking lot at the northeast corner of North Church Street and Graham-Hopedale Road where the Powers carnival is scheduled to set up.
Their attorney, John Paisley, said he had seen no evidence that the fair is advertised and held at regular intervals, as statute 106-516.1 requires.
The Powers carnival is “a relatively small ride business that should be of little or no conflict” with Isley’s fair, he said.
“It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” Paisley said. “If they are so threatened by this tiny little carnival, then they probably aren’t going to make it anyway as an agricultural fair.”
On Thursday, Paisley faxed the Times-News a letter from the N.C. Association of Agricultural Fairs.
In it, Executive Secretary Bonnie Holloman said Isley called Wednesday and notified the association she had changed the county fair dates from August to May.
“If you don’t even notify the association until April 8 … how in the world can this be a regularly advertised agricultural fair?”
“My position is that it doesn’t require a permit at all” from the sheriff, Paisley said Thursday.
Although he is siding with Isley this year, the sheriff said he won’t block future permit requests from Powers or other carnival operators unless Isley announces her fair schedule “way in advance” to meet statutory requirements.
But given Isley’s contractual bind this year, “I’m going to have to let her run her fair,” Johnson said.
Despite the sheriff’s decision, Paisley thinks the situation is far from resolved, and said he will advise his clients “to encourage Powers to contact their counsel and fight it.”
“This is clearly a restraint of trade and therefore is unconstitutional,” he said.