A previously unknown association declared that it, not the current local board, controls the Tuesday night Farmers Market and that it will not submit a proposal to manage the event in 2011.
Deeply involved in the emergent group are market manager Hilda Swartz, who as a board member has in effect secretly been her boss’s boss, and Jim Cahoon, the local SVCFM board chair who resigned in a public huff last April.
The Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market (SVCFM) has been the manager of record for some 20 years. Last week, its board of directors received a letter from a group named the Sonoma County Certified Farmers Market Association stating that it, the SCCFMA, was in fact the governing body.
In that capacity it dismissed the local board including Chairman Bill Dardon.
The existence of the Petaluma-based SCCFMA was a surprise to the local board and the city council. “I’m stunned,” said Mayor Steve Barbose. “During all the controversy, discussions and meetings, we were never told.”
The three voting members of SCCFMA board are Erica Burns, Paula Downing and Hilda Swartz.
As the long-serving manager of the Tuesday night event, Swartz has been the focus of complaints for her autocratic management style.
Dardon told The Sun that he encountered this behavior when he became chairman and Swartz ignored his instructions. “The current board came in to help Hilda and stabilize the market,” Dardon said. “We wanted to give her the tools. She didn’t listen.”
Swartz was dismissive of attempts to improve vendor relations and update accounting procedures, another SVCFM board member told The Sun.
Dardon said Swartz had never told him of the SCCFMA or that she served on its board.
Councilmember Ken Brown described the revelations as “Machiavellian in nature.”
It was complaints against Swartz that in part lead to council hearings last year. The market was found to have severe problems regarding accountability, vendor relations and overall transparency.
The SVCFM was nonetheless awarded the contract in January. When the council took the management to task in April for not demonstrating the progress it had promised, embattled board president Jim Cahoon resigned with a televised public outburst.
Cahoon is still very much in the picture. The SCCFMA letter dismissing the local board authorized him to assume financial control of the local market’s business details. As a signer of its Bank of America account, Cahoon will “take responsibility to allocate and disperse all funds (and) close the account,” the letter said.
“Jim Cahoon taking over those accounts, that to me is very strange,” Dardon said. “It’s adding insult to injury.”
In September, Dardon said, Swartz flatly refused to send out a basic update from his board to the vendors. She told him he lacked the authority to do so, he said.
The letter from SCCFMA stating its complete control came shortly thereafter. It said that the SCVFM was merely its “direct marketing outlet” in Sonoma, and as such had no legal jurisdiction. It dismissed the board and called for the return of all market possessions and records by October 31.
The emergence and actions of the SCCFMA does not affect the Request for Proposal (RFP) process now in progress.
Dardon said he will form a new group and submit a bid. He said that under his stewardship the market made great progress. Dardon said he took an informal survey of vendors and that all 32 he spoke with would return.
“I am prepared to run the market,” Dardon said. ‘I’m more than prepared to do what needs to be done for the city of Sonoma.”
The final Tuesday night market of the season will go on as planned on October 26. It will mark the end of involvement of the SCCFMA and Hilda Swartz. “It’s the end of an era,” Dardon said. “And frankly, I’m happy about it.”