CHRB's Ingrid Fermin Resigns

CHRB's Ingrid Fermin Resigns
Photo: Benoit
Ingrid Fermin
Rather than relocate her office to Sacramento, Ingrid Fermin, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, announced Nov. 6 that she is stepping down effective Jan. 7, 2008, exactly three years after she took leadership of the state agency.

Fermin 66, confirmed that her decision was based on a board requirement that she move her operations to CHRB headquarters in Sacramento.

"At this stage of my life, I don't need to relocate," said Fermin said during a phone interview. "I'm unwilling to do that. Sacramento is a nice place, but I live in Del Mar."

Fermin's resignation letter was dated Oct. 24. She said release was held up for two weeks while she discussed her decision with board chairman Richard Shapiro and others. Fermin underwent a performance review in closed session during a commission meeting Oct. 18.

According to Shapiro, commissioners gave her high marks, but they did require that she move her office to Sacramento.

"At the time we hired her, she was adamant that she could not work in Sacramento. I was fairly new to the board and her request to maintain an office in Southern California seemed to be reasonable one," Shapiro said by phone. "We gave it a good shot, but so much of the job deals with government bureaucracy, politics and regulatory hoops, it really is necessary to have a full-time executive director in Sacramento."

Fermin pointed out in her resignation letter that she was permitted to "maintain a field office in Southern California while being present in Sacramento as needed." Del Mar is about 500 miles south of Sacramento. Fermin had been working primarily from an office at Del Mar Race Track and occasionally commuting to Sacramento and elsewhere.

Currently paid an annual salary of $116,508, Fermin said she will remain active in her post until her departure. The first female steward in California when she was appointed in 1981, she accepted the executive director position promising to tackle medication policy and testing issues. She pointed to strides in those areas -- such as pre-race TCO2 or milkshake testing, out-of-competition testing and a bill recently signed by the governor that will speed up the hearing process in medication cases -- as the highlights of her tenure. She credited Dr. Rick Arthur, who became the CHRB's equine medical director, with helping the agency improve its drug enforcement.

Fermin's tenure also included a board mandate to convert the state's major Thoroughbred tracks to synthetic surfaces and the pending closure of Bay Meadows Race Course.

There were also reports of rancor and poor communication within the agency and with various elements of the state's Thoroughbred industry. She was accused of favoritism in her contracts and appointments.

Shapiro said he accepted Fermin's resignation with regrets.
"In recent years, the CHRB has taken monumental steps forward to increase transparency and protect the integrity of horse racing in California," he said in a statement. "We instituted new training programs for stewards and investigators, adopted new rules for enforcement and consistency of penalties, sponsored legislation that will permit the faster and fairer adjudication of cases,  increased surveillance in our stable areas, and instituted new testing procedures, most significantly out-of-competition testing. The board also transferred all primary testing to the Ken Maddy Laboratory at UC Davis. And we hired highly qualified professional staff at nearly all key positions.
"Ingrid has played an integral role in all of these accomplishments, and it has been a pleasure to work with her over the last three years. I both regret and understand her decision not to relocate to Sacramento. I hope she will stay involved in horse racing in California."

Shapiro said he plans to appoint a selection committee to screen candidates. He said he hopes to have a final selection by the time Fermin officially leaves, but said finding the right person will not be easy.

"This is a really tough position, a very difficult job," he said.

California Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Mateo), a leading critic of the CHRB, said, "This is an opportunity for the CHRB to find the right individual to get horse racing back on the right track."

Yee, noting board policy that he said "was rife with conflicts of interest, either real or perceived," said he did not blame Fermin for the agency's problems and thanked her for her long service to the industry. "Whatever problems were identified with Ms. Fermin, this board allowed her to do this outside of Sacramento for years."

A school teacher before becoming involved in racing, Fermin said she had no immediate plans. She has worked with the CHRB for nearly three decades.

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