City will shop for new Farmers Market management

The City of Sonoma is once again in the market for somebody to run the Tuesday Night Farmers Market on Sonoma Plaza.
While all city council members were complimentary to the progress made by the incumbent team, a 3-2 vote puts the job for 2011 out to bid.

“This is not an indictment of the current group,” said Mayor Steve Barbose. “Since May, there has been an amazing turnaround. But is it perfect? No. There is room for improvement.”

Council members Ken Brown and Joanne Sanders, who said it was sound government policy to explore all options, joined Barbose in the majority.

The council’s decision to initiate the request for proposal (RFP) process was contrary to the recommendations of city staff and the Community Services and Environment Commission.

Overriding that advice did not sit well with Council member August Sebastiani, who voted against the RFP. “I don’t like what this says about us as a body,” he said.

Sebastiani said he has noticed positive changes in how the market is run. “It’s unfortunate that it took so long to light the fire. But it’s not fair to dismiss 20 years of success.”

City government is essentially dealing with a new management team, formally known as the Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market, since a shake-up in May. After contentious meetings in which the organization showed little if any progress towards council-mandated goals, Jim Cahoon the board chair, stomped off the job.

His successor, Bill Dardon, made immediate improvements.

“Although it has been a difficult transition, the SVCFM has markedly moved forward in its mission and is continuing to do so,” said Milenka Bates, Sonoma’s public works director. “The changes and the additions that have been made have been positive and will continue to improve the market.”

Bates said the SVCFM board has improved transparency, a priority, by posting board meetings, holding them in public locations, and posting written policies and procedures on a new website, svcfm.com.

Council member Laurie Gallian also voted to retain the SVCFM. “I see the leadership,” she said. “I’m looking forward to what they can accomplish.”

While acknowledging the progress since May, the council majority decided to invite proposals that could make the market even better. “Good ideas came out of the process last time, and good ideas will come out again,” Barbose said.

“It’s in the interest of the city in case there are more qualified folks out there,” Sanders said. “We need to make sure the city is exposed to up and coming ideas about how farmers markets are run.”

Sanders said that with its recent record of problem solving, the current team should be a strong contender for the next contract.

Currently, the city issues the market a use permit. Under that arrangement, said Ilene Addison, a member of the Farmers Market Advisory Board, the market can conduct its business as it sees fit. “But it has ballooned into much more,” she said. “The perception now is that the city is running the market.”

Brown said he did not take issue with the city’s involvement. Dissatisfied with the SVCFM performance and attitude last year, the council issued an RFP but, because of a compressed timeline, only two bonifide proposals were received. The incumbent team was retained with a 3-2 vote in December.

The other group, Fair Bounty, was the choice of the CSEC. Asked this week if the group would apply for the 2011 contract, Fair Bounty’s Janet Church said, “I don’t know yet. It’s too early to tell.”

The formal language of the RFP will be drafted by city staff for approval at the upcoming city council meeting.


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