News of the seemingly sudden dismissal from the popular Veteran’s Hall market was sent by letter to the 111 members of the SRCFM — mostly producers and farmers who sell at the Wednesday and Saturday markets — on October 4. Downing has not been at the market since Sept. 30.
According to the letter, obtained by BiteClub, the board decided not to renew Downing’s agreement to manage the market under the terms Downing demanded. “Although we are not able to discuss all the reasons the decision was made due to our concern for Ms. Downing’s privacy, we assure you that our decision not to renew her agreement was warranted under the circumstances.”
Kathleen Miller of Beyers-Costin, attorney for the market and spokesperson for the board said, “Paula Downing had an independent contractor agreement with the market. She was seeking additional compensation and in the process of renegotiation she wanted more money than the market could pay her. The board made her an offer that included additional compensation, but it was not as much as she wanted. The board didn’t believe it was in the best interest of the market to give her as much as she was asking.”
Board members declined to speak publicly about the dismissal but stated in their letter to members that “Downing and her supporters have chosen to vilify and harass the board members as a result of our decision.”
Downing, when reached for comment today, said “It was not my decision to leave. I would never have put the market in this position by leaving at the height of the season. I feel guilty about the farmers get this kind of publicity, this is people’s livelihood.” She declined to elaborate further citing legal actions, but clarified that she was “asked to leave”.
Downing has been at the Santa Rosa Certified Farmer’s Market for eight years. She will continue to manage the Sebastopol Farmer’s market. In the interim, the board has announced that market veterans Susan Nystrom and Ellen Roberts will be acting as interim managers for the Saturday and Wednesday market respectively.
“Nothing about the market is changing except for the Management,” reads the letter to members. “The Board of Directors is working overtime to ensure a stable, healthy, vibrant Farmers’ Market, now and in the future.”
The shakeup comes on the heels of a months-long kerfuffle at the Tuesday night Sonoma Farmer’s Market. After a number of high-tension public meetings and votes, the city has required longtime manager Hilda Schwartz to submit a proposal to continue managing the Tuesday night market on the city plaza. The RFP process, in which anyone can submit a plan for the market, continues until November.