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Major shakeup at Santa Rosa Certified Farmers’ Market

Market manager Paula Downing removed by board

Longtime Santa Rosa Certified Farmer’s Market manager Paula Downing has been removed from her position by the six-member market board of directors.
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.

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20 thoughts on “Major shakeup at Santa Rosa Certified Farmers’ Market

  1. Wow! The board bought themselves dinner? They serve on the board for free, spend hours of their time each week handling market issues as board members, so what if they bought themselves dinner! It is an approved practice.
    I haven’t come across any comments regarding the market’s insurance policy lapsing last spring! Technically the market should have been shut down until the issue was resolved. But “the manager” didn’t accept responsibility for that, blamed others.
    The pay issue has been going on for months, it didn’t just arise in September! September was when the board said enough is enough. Making $3,000 a month, demanding (not asking) for $4,000 a month, offered $3,500 but would not take it. $3,500 is pretty good part time money in my mind!
    When someone threatens to sue you unfortunately you have to seek legal representation. If a customer tripped in the market and decided to sue the board would need to get an attorney. That is what they are supposed to do.
    The bottom line is the way the vote was handled went against the bylaws of the farm market! Every vendor could have been there to vote that night but the vote would have still been invalid because proper voting procedures weren’t adhered to.

  2. Ms Downing appears to have gotten her job back. If I were her I wouldn’t be too proud of the way her supporters conducted themselves more like a mob then people trying to resolve a problem.

  3. regarding the events at the east west cafe last night 1 should note that the board threatened to expel members by calling the police slander of other members and refuse to provide any information about the market finances . it was obvious of the lawyer was pulling the strings the board refuse to answer any questions regarding finances legal compensation form s doubting negotiations. the board has exceeded its mandates not need to resign following the shameful actions disgusting

  4. “And in that case, I would be concerned that they are spending members’ money on a lawyer to defend their decision against members’ criticisms. Particularly stunning to me is that “in the worst economy”, as one contributor put it, the board took some of the money they would argue they are saving, and bought themselves dinner at this week’s board meeting”. signed Greg drivel
    The board hired a lawyer to defend the market against a lawsuit Ms. Downing threatened to file

  5. Last night I was at the East/West Restaurant and on the patio was a meeting of this market’s board and apparently the people who support Downing. It was being taped and people were yelling screaming. How could I not try to see what was going on. I’m not that familiar with the market but hey a public bloodletting ….
    My take away from a few minutes of nosy observation — a lot of people practicing law without a license and a board unable to communicate for whatever reasons what the problems really are.
    I noticed this in an earlier comment from someone who appears to know the former manager
    “For now, Paula is taking the high road and not speaking publicly about the situation, even though she has every right to defend herself.”
    I don’t think that is true based on what I heard last night from her supporters –they could not get any lower -rude crude and not listening to of the responses and represented that they knew what she wanted.

  6. 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.”
    How could she be fired when she was offered more money -she quit leaving the market and the farmers high and dry.

    1. Unless one knows what Paula’s compensation was, and how it compares to other markets, and how the SR market compares to other markets, and how many hours she works, it seems pointless to me to make a blanket judgement based upon her compensation. There are many in our society who are underpaid, and for whom I would support increased compensation in any climate (farmers, for example). I am more concerned that the board may not be representing the majority of those farmers and vendors comprising the market. And in that case, I would be concerned that they are spending members’ money on a lawyer to defend their decision against members’ criticisms. Particularly stunning to me is that “in the worst economy”, as one contributor put it, the board took some of the money they would argue they are saving, and bought themselves dinner at this week’s board meeting.

  7. I met Paula this spring as she was helping to promote the Russian River Slow Food ” Save the Gravenstein” project. She is amazing and the BEST advocate for farmers. It seemed pretty apparent to me that she spends far more hours working for the farmers and the Farmer’s Markets than she could ever be compensated for. Didn’t she bring this market up from the ashes to make it the vital market that it is today? She is organized, passionate, intelligent, and an all around gem. Reconsider- please!

  8. helloooo..we are in the worst economy and you’re demanding more money?! everyone knows better than that, I wouldn’t ask for a raise right now! I’m just grateful to have a job at all. duh

    1. Jan you are so right! Her timing was really bad. I think the Farmer’s Market will be fine with out her. The Farmer’s Market has been around for twenty year and it’s really the vendors and their product that keep people coming not whoever this lady is.

      1. Paula Downing did not quit. She did not leave the market she nurtured for nearly a decade high and dry. She was fired, without notice, and it was not because of money as some imply here. The market has been here for about four decades. Its success has ebbed at times. Some managers have been good, others not so good. But Paula has been extraordinary. Under her management, the market has not only thrived; it has blossomed. She has waged many battles to keep the market and its farmers and other vendors healthy. There has been a huge outcry over her termination by a large majority of market managers. For now, Paula is taking the high road and not speaking publicly about the situation, even though she has every right to defend herself.

        1. Paula has done a great job managing the market but its my understanding that Paula was the one that declined the boards offer. It was more then what they had been paying her but not as much as she wanted. Maybe there’s more to it then just money but it seems pretty black and white to me! Paula, I wish you the best and the market will go on!

        2. Nearly a decade? I am a longtime shopper at the SR Original Market and even 8 years quoted seemed like too long since Paula had taken over, so let’s not add even more.
          In checking PD articles on Farmers Markets, I found that Paula Downing took over the SR Market in the spring of 2004, according to “Pick of the Crop” article dated 4/20/04. Honestly she is just finishing her 7th summer at the market. (Managing previously unsuccessfully the defunct Cotati Market)
          I seemed to remember her taking over the market at another time when there was a division of loyalty by the vendors for the market manager even back then. Paula did wisely and quietly put out the flames and let the market continue thriving.
          It is the vendors who make this year around market great, and the vendors go where the people and the buyers are. If the new MarketHall brings in the people and the buyers then the vendors will probably go there next, no loyalty when it comes down to the bottom line of feeding their families.

          1. Paula told me that she would have been starting her ninth year at the market. So, I’m taking it from what she told me.

  9. This is a terrible shame, Paula had done wonders for the market.
    I really hope that the farmers, their customers and the market doesn’t suffer as a result of this decision by the board. It’s very worrisome and makes me wonder if they’re planning to take the market in some other, unwelcome direction.

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