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Janesville Farmers Market board is dwindling

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
May 14, 2010
— Another member of the Janesville Farmers Market Board resigned Thursday.

The board canceled a Thursday night meeting during which it was to hear from the public. The board couldn’t get a quorum because Stephen Schmid resigned earlier in the day.


That brings to six the number of board members who have resigned in as many months, leaving three of the board’s nine seats empty. Several who resigned said they are weary of the drama.


People who have been interviewed by the Gazette expressed concern that the board has:


-- Limited vendors to protect the profits of others, leading to accusations of conflicts of interest, protectionism and cronyism.


-- Refused help offered by a volunteer group made up of civic and business organization members dedicated to leadership training.


-- Employed a market manager who some find difficult to work with, who does not return phone calls in a timely manner and who, according to meeting minutes, threatened a board member.


-- Required too much work of the part-time manager.


-- Not followed its own policies and not provided effective leadership.


Merry Evans, a board member who resigned April 20, recommended that the board start over. She suggested that the city or Forward Janesville get involved in the reorganization.


She urged new board members to embrace the original vision of the farmers market.


Vendors turned away

The farmers market board moved into the public eye after Teri Huber, market manager, refused baker Sheila Killion’s vendor application.


Huber told Killion the baker’s quota was filled. Huber said in later interviews that the board believes it is important to protect vendors who already are at the market.


Board members Renee Dommershausen and Bryan Meyer stood behind Huber during an interview last week. They said she has the discretion to manage the mix of market produce.


But Killion charged a conflict of interest because Huber’s family has a baker’s booth at the market. Killion’s fight to get into the market was detailed in a Saturday article in the Gazette.


The board had voted twice to back Huber. According to the meeting minutes, Huber threatened to quit April 8 if Killion was allowed to sell. She also threatened Evans with not processing her vending application if Evans was not a “team player.”


Huber denied threatening Evans, noting that Evans took the minutes of the meeting.


Board policy does not appear to limit the number of vendors who sell accepted farm produce, which includes baked goods.


Merry Evans said in the Saturday article that she was unaware that vendors were being turned away. Since then, several board members blamed a lack of communication among members for some of the recent troubles.


‘Ignored or reversed’

Jennifer Skelly, who resigned from the board Saturday, cited in her resignation letter the lack of a structured organization and communication.


“I have never been a member of a board before, but I know that this is not how a board is supposed to operate,” she wrote.


She said she became frustrated with the board’s operations, citing no clear chain of command and threats and accusations between people involved with the market and community members outside the market.


“In addition, the board has voted on issues only to have them ignored or reversed,” she said.


Skelly in April asked the board to bring in a third party to help it resolve its differences.


“As it stands now, we may as well disband the board and turn it over to the market manager,” she wrote in an earlier letter.


“In my eyes, the Janesville Farmers Market is not directed by a board of nine members and a manager working together but is led by a select few,” she said in her resignation letter.


Fractures in the board

Dommershausen traces fractures in the board to an offer from a group involved with the Leadership Development Academy. The group wanted to help form a friends group to support the market.


The development academy in February abandoned its effort to help the market. In a letter, it cited difficulties working with Huber. Huber in a recent interview blamed the group. Domershausen blamed the board because she said a board member should have accompanied Huber to any meetings with the development academy.


“Our board just started to dissolve,” Dommershausen said.


Evans said the board didn’t know what was going on with the development academy until the board got the academy’s letter. She had no idea why a meeting with the group and the board was canceled. She was disappointed with the way things turned out.


Ironically, all agree that the market needs the volunteer help. Huber said she works more than what she is paid for because she believes so passionately in the market. The workload is one reason she doesn’t always return phone calls in a timely manner, she said.


Evans, too, said the board doesn’t follow its bylaws and policies, doesn’t communicate and doesn’t know how to handle grievances.


“It’s a dysfunctional board,” she said.


“I didn’t know (about) the PR problem that apparently existed until recently, that we as a board were not stepping up and supervising and being a strong, visible board,” Evans said.


Dommershausen said the board should have revisited its policies to reflect the market’s current direction.


Skelly has hope for the market.


In her resignation letter, she wrote: “Despite my criticism of the board, including myself, I wish nothing but the best for the future of the Janesville Farmers Market.


“I truly believe that the Janesville Farmers Market will succeed regardless of who the manager is and who makes up the board because of the vendors that attend and, just as importantly, the customers that come down each and every week.”



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