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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 23, 2020 3 months ago

Longtime farmers market director steps down

A dispute between Phil Pagano and the board of directors had led to a change in leadership for the Sarasota Farmers Market.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

On April 13, Phil Pagano sent a message to members of the Sarasota Farmers Market’s board of directors. Pagano, who has served as the executive director for the market for more than a decade, announced he had decided to step down.

Although Pagano cited tensions with the board of directors as fueling his decision, he said he had no animosity toward the board.

“I wish all of you great success — and will help in any way next few months,” Pagano wrote.

Then, at around 1:30 a.m. April 18, Pagano sent out another message to a farmers market email list announcing he would be departing as executive director.

“COVID-19 has brought a lot of emotions to the world and especially to the market,” Pagano wrote. “I have had some differences with our board of directors. But at this juncture, I want to wish them the best of luck on their new journey to carry on a vendor-run market.”

In between those two messages, Pagano temporarily rescinded his resignation in an email to market vendors, alleging someone had hacked his farmer market email account and improperly accessed his personal Facebook account. A representative for the board of directors said Pagano’s accusation bordered on libel and denied anyone with the market had improperly accessed the accounts.

Jeff Gordon, market treasurer and owner of vendor Suncoast Florist, said tensions flared after the board decided to shut down all operations in early April, temporarily laying off market employees, including Pagano. Gordon said the market was facing financial strain once rental income from vendors stopped coming in mid-March, holding several meetings before deciding it could not afford personnel expenses.

“We’re doing our best under these really hard circumstances to get this information out to the membership and to responsibly manage what responsibilities were before us,” Gordon said.

Pagano accused the board of holding those meetings without properly adhering to market bylaws, a claim echoed by vendor Terry Hart in an April 6 email. Although Gordon said the board had officially accepted Pagano’s resignation and was united in its efforts to prepare to reactivate the market, he said there remained tension within the organization.

“There’s just been so much going on with the divisiveness that’s been created around the market that it’s hard to focus on implementing it,” Gordon said of a potential market pick-up program.

Pagano, meanwhile, said he felt shut out of the decision-making process once COVID-19 hit and the market shut down operations.

“Basically: they never asked me anything,” Pagano said. “They never would sit down with me.”

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