A sign outside of the doors of the Hamilton Farmers' Market advertising hours of operation Credit: Joey Coleman / The Public Record

Hamilton’s Farmers’ Market Board is “ineffective” and needs to be disbanded, says a 36-page governance review conducted by Michael H Howes & Anne Bermingham of 2WA Consulting, Inc.

The consultants squarely lay the fault for the Board’s dysfunction with an entrenched group of vendor representatives who are misusing their positions to advance their own interests at the expense of the improvement of the Market.

The Board is “bogged down with operational issues and decisions” instead of making policy, the consultants write. This “has resulted in an ineffective board”.

The consultants interviewed Market Board members and the Market Manager in the course of making their findings.

Much of the reason for the ineffective board rests with the three vendor Board representatives who use their Board seats to argue about the day-to-day operating practices of the Market.

The consultants note the vendor representatives frequently bring up “issues and situations relating to the [2011/12] renovation of the Market footprint are repeatedly raised and identified as historical injustices, with the vendors highlighting that they have been treated very badly”.

“This is either an effort to gain a more sympathetic view of the issues they want to discuss”, the consultants write. “Or a deliberate obfuscation that drags out meetings to the point that everyone becomes frustrated and the agenda cannot be completed”.

The consultants note the Market Board frequently debates City parking policy on nearby streets and the York Boulevard parking garage. [The consultant repeatedly writes “York Street” in error while referring to York Boulevard]

“Any changes are to the account of the City Council and none are planned. This does not stop the Board from continually discussing the issue”. The consultants state during their interviews with vendor representatives, the lack of metered parking on York Boulevard was a grievance the vendor Board members repeatedly brought up.

The vendor representatives have expressed strong opposition to bike lanes on York Boulevard, and complain the addition of bike lanes “has a major negative impact on business for vendors”.

The consultants note the Market Board overuses in-camera sessions, asking “if it is being used to have conversations that the Board doesn’t want made public but should be”.

Market vendor Board members are not suppose to discuss or vote on issues when they have a conflict of interest. The consultant notes multiple violations of these rules.

The vendor members of the Board frequently overrule the Market Manager, when they should not, the consultants found. Many vendors refuse to obey by market rules, such as hours and parking at the loading dock.

One of the vendor board members, who frequently flouts the rules has refused to pay fines imposed against him.

The report finds vendor representatives are openly hostile to citizen appointees on the board, claiming the citizens have a political agenda detrimental to the market and do not shop regularly at the Market. “There is no evidence to back-up either of these claims”, the consultant writes.

Residents who shop at the Market expressed much frustration with vendors randomly closing early and not following market policies.

31% of respondents to a survey noted complaints related to market hours and adherence to those hours by vendors. The consultant says the market hours must be enforced, among various numerous policy violations to address.

During a Council meeting today, Ward 15 Councillor Judi Partridge described it as a damning report requiring the attention of Council.

Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr stepped off the Farmers’ Market Board this term of Council, Ward 7 Councillor Esther Pauls is on the Board.

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First published: September 14, 2020
Last edited: September 14, 2020
Author: Joey Coleman
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