Just two days after the nation celebrated Independence Day, vendors from the Downtown Sarasota Farmers Market asked city commissioners to grant them their own independence.
The vendors want to break from the Downtown Partnership, which has run the farmers market since it began 30 years ago.
“The vendors’ interests are not given priority,” said Greg Roy, who sits on the vendors’ advisory committee.
But Phil Chmieleski, chairman of the Downtown Partnership, said his group has gone out of its way to listen to the vendors’ interests.
“We invited them to be on our board,” Chmieleski said. “We’ve invited them to our visioning committee. If they have ideas on how to better run the market, why haven’t they suggested them?”
Roy told commissioners that the market has never looked better or been more successful, but that the 38 vendors out of 55 who signed a petition to break with the Partnership believe they can make it even more vibrant.
Chmieleski said giving the vendors control over themselves is a bad idea.
“It’s like the fox guarding the chicken coop,” he said.
Phil Pagano, a vendor, had been managing the market until March, when he was fired partially because he failed to collect rent from some fellow vendors and was himself behind on rent.
Those same risks will be at play if the city puts the vendors in control, said Chmieleski.
“It’s the quintessential conflict of interest,” he said.
But Roy said it’s best to have people with a vested interest in charge of their own destiny.
Chmieleski said the Partnership has arranged and manages about $50,000 of pro bono services, such as legal services, for the vendors. He said the vendors would have to pay for those services if they take over the market.
Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner invited the vendors to make their presentation this week, because he said the commission should hear what they have to say.
“I know there are some people in the community who think this is not a good idea, and I think we should hear that,” Kirschner said. “But, when you have near unanimity from our vendors, we should have the discussion, and I’d like to see it move forward.”
City commissioners will hear both sides and could vote on the issue at their July 20 meeting.