Though funded and managed by the Collingwood Downtown BIA, the Collingwood Farmers’ Market opened this year without formal support from the BIA board of directors.
In the last two weeks, four of nine Collingwood Downtown BIA board members have resigned.
At least one of the resignations was a direct result of the events leading up to the opening of the farmers’ market.
Alex Yuen, who was in his second consecutive term on the BIA board, and was a member and the chair of the board for several years in the 1990s, resigned on June 30 over the BIA’s handling of the farmers’ market reopening.
He said a board decision was ignored and the process circumvented when the farmers’ market was opened on June 27 without a BIA board vote.
“My resignation from the BIA was dealing with policy and procedure,” said Yuen.
Approved minutes show the BIA board agreed to have an emergency meeting following the outcome of a funding request to council and before deciding to reopen the farmers’ market this year. But the emergency meeting never happened.
Instead, the farmers’ market opened, and it took a week for Yuen to find out who authorized it.
Deputy Mayor Keith Hull, the council representative on the BIA board of directors, announced immediately after council’s decision at the June 22 meeting that the farmers’ market would open that Saturday (June 27).
“My understanding was the board had made the decision to move forward,” said Hull.
Yuen, on the other hand, had the opposite impression.
“We hadn’t even discussed [the opening] yet,” said Yuen. “There was supposed to be a meeting … technically we didn’t support the market at the time. There wasn’t a consensus that we were in support of putting the market on.”
According to the minutes from the June 11 board meeting, which have been approved by the BIA board, and posted publicly, the board “agreed to wait until all members are present and there is a decision from the town regarding funding.”
In the section of the minutes detailing farmers’ market discussions, it is noted the general manager, Susan Nicholson, requested clear direction from the board for the farmers’ market and whether it could proceed for June 20.
The minutes indicate a motion for the Collingwood BIA board to support the 2020 Farmers’ Market was defeated.
“The board requested to note the motion was defeated as no decision has been made regarding town funding,” stated the minutes.
The minutes state the board would have a special meeting to “make a decision regarding the 2020 Farmers’ Market.”
Yuen said he didn’t believe a majority of the BIA board of directors were aware the market was a go until the deputy mayor made the announcement in a council meeting.
Hull did attend the June 11 BIA board meeting.
Hull agreed the minutes stated the board would have a special meeting after council’s decision to decide when and if they would launch the farmers’ market this season.
“I think there’s some discrepancy as to what the actual minutes state and what the flavour of the discussion actually was,” said Hull. “I think that myself and others were under the impression – whether right or wrong – if the money is put in place, all the boxes were checked off and that we would be moving forward with the market that week.”
Hull said he made the announcement at the meeting to give a “heads up” to media and “so we could get some free press out of it.”
According to an email circulated to the BIA board from Penny Skelton, chair of the board at the time, she had discussions with Nicholson, as well as Bradley Green, the board liaison for the farmers’ market at the time, about reopening the farmers’ market.
Green has since resigned from the board, stating he felt he is, "no longer able to continue as a board member in any meaningful manner.”
Skelton, upon being asked twice by Yuen why the farmers’ market opened without a BIA board vote, said she and Green were confident if all the requirements for infection control restrictions were in place, “we would go ahead with the market.”
Skelton noted she would have called an emergency board meeting if council had funded less than 50 per cent of the request.
“After the last board meeting there were multiple discussions of ‘if’ and ‘how much,’ council would grant … for funding,” wrote Skelton in her email to board members. “[Deputy Mayor] Hull made the point that we couldn’t ask for funding but say that if we didn’t get it or the amount we asked for, we wouldn’t go ahead with the market. He felt that council would feel we weren’t supporting our own market.”
Hull said he spoke with Skelton on the phone on June 16, following the first committee meeting where the BIA request for funding came up, but before the final council decision.
He said he “didn’t believe” they discussed him making an announcement that the farmers’ market would open June 27.
“As with any organization, there is communication on an ongoing basis. Mine has been quite limited with respect to the BIA,” said Hull.
Skelton redirected questions about the farmers' market and BIA board resignations to the town clerk and BIA manager. She did not respond to questions about her conversations with Hull.
Yuen said he didn’t see the BIA board as particularly “dysfunctional” but considers the way the farmers’ market opened to be a disregard of policy and procedure. He said the board’s decision was ignored.
“I’m supportive of the market going, and if we did have a meeting, and it came back up, I probably would have voted ‘yeah, let’s go for it,’” said Yuen. “But we weren’t given that opportunity to discuss it.”
Yuen said he tried to address the matter before resigning.
“If the chair recognized that there was a mistake made, then I probably would have reconsidered, or the thought of resigning wouldn’t have crossed my mind,” said Yuen. “I don’t feel comfortable if that’s how we, as a board, are going to conduct business.”
He resigned on June 30.
Deputy Mayor Hull said Yuen's and the other three resignations are "nothing to dismiss," but the board was facing a "minor bump."
“I’m disappointed there maybe wasn’t an opportunity to talk about the process as opposed to just a straight out resignation,” said Hull.
“At the end of the day, what I am very comfortable with and I am very pleased with is the fact that we were able to get the market open under very unique circumstances,” said Hull. “I think if we had not opened the market this year, it would have been a disappointment.”
The other two board members who resigned are Susan Holden and Carolina D’Andrea.
Holden resigned before Yuen, and noted her work duties have expanded so she now has sales territory in Coburg. She said her resignation was a “matter of time” and she could no longer fully commit to the board.
D’Andrea said she resigned because she found herself “burnt out.”
“I put a lot of my time and energy into what I felt would be positive changes,” she said, referring to events like Come Alive at 5 to keep stores open later on Thursdays and Fridays, and plans to transform the BIA’s social media and digital marketing.
“At a time when small retailers are competing against large online retailers, promoting the ‘boutique shopping experience’ seemed like an important priority, but I did not have much support from the board on this issue,” she said.
D’Andrea noted she observed BIA board meetings were spent “discussing and sharing frustration over the same issues.”
“I quickly observed an absence of teamwork and culture within the board lacking energy and enthusiasm with a tendency to focus on challenges and obstacles,” she said. “So, after 18 months of advocating for these changes, I burnt out.”
She said she feels frustrated and disappointed in her experience as a BIA board member.
The BIA board is having a special meeting on Monday with Collingwood Clerk Sara Almas to discuss a plan to fill the four vacant seats.