A recent resignation letter from a board member of the Hamilton Farmers Market hinted at the problems, but a recent governance review of the facility, lays bare a litany of poor governance practices. The report by 2WA Consulting describes a market board mired in minutiae, riddled with conflicts of interest and totally dysfunctional as citizen and vendor directors are constantly at war.
The board was criticized for spending about 80 percent of its time inappropriately conducting its sessions in-camera. Attempts to educate the board on the proper role of boards have not been successful.
The report says that because of vendor domination of the board, established operating rules and procedures are not followed, because the Board overrules the manager or because there isn’t the political will to enforce them. The Bay Observer heard similar accusations by vendors who complained that the market board is dominated by two or three of the largest vendors who overrule the manager when it comes to disciplining vendors who break established policies. The report provided several specifics:
- In one instance, a vendor abandoned their stall and the Board blocked their removal from the Market as a vendor by the Board, arguing that other vendors have not been removed in the past and that a precedent had thus been set.
- Many vendors do not follow the operating hours without feeling any negative consequences
- Video cameras installed to monitor the loading dock have illustrated the fact that certain vendors are not following the rules for dock usage.
- Fines levied for improper loading dock usage have not been paid by the vendor representative who was found in default of the rules
The report interviewed members of the public many of whom complained that vendors do not adhere to market opening hours. They just pack up and leave. One respondent said she had to phone ahead to see if a particular stall was open.
The report also noted that the notion of the market being a place where area farmers could sell their locally grown produce is a thing of the past. Many vendors get their produce at a food terminal in Toronto and are selling the same produce as is available in any grocery store.
The report made several recommendations, chief among these, eliminating vendor domination of the board by reducing vendor representation from the current four members to one. At the same time the vendors would appoint a committee that would be advisory only. The report noted that the market needs to focus more on customer needs rather than vendor needs and that a committee be established focused on customer service.
The Hamilton Market has faced a number of challenges, not the least of which is the COVID crisis which has affected all retail operations, and the arrival of the Nations Food Market in Jackson Square; but as the report indicates the market has been in a state of dysfunction and operational inefficiency for a long time. The market produces about $800,000 in annual revenue—most of it stall rental—and operates at a small deficit each year. In addition, it receives an operating grant of about $110,000 per year. With the governance structure cleaned up, the market could be ripe for some reinvestment by Council.