An open letter to the board and members of the Powell River and District Agricultural Association

By David Parkinson

Thistles

Thistles growing in a clearcut

On Thursday October 29, 2009, at a general meeting of the Agricultural Association, a member brought a motion to the floor seeking to nullify the election of several members of the board at the June 2009 Annual General Meeting of the Association. After extensive discussion, the board consented to call an extraordinary general meeting at which the members may bring to the floor whatever special resolutions they need in order to remove the offending board members and hold new elections. The president of the board indicated that the current board members would not stand for office in any new elections.

To the members of the board,

First of all, I congratulate you on the work you have done during your few short months in office. You inherited a messy situation and had to figure out a lot of things on your own. You brought to light the true relationship between the Association and the management of the Open Air Market. You worked to settle the fundamentals of the Association: insurance, maintenance, and cash-flow; all of which had been ongoing problems threatening the Association’s ability to function as a working society. You oversaw this year’s Fall Fair, which was very successful and has guaranteed that the Association can meet its expected financial obligations for the coming year.

Whether or not the membership chooses to acknowledge these accomplishments, you should be proud of them. If you had not stepped into the vacuum of leadership in June, it is not certain how these things would have happened.

Along the way you have stepped on some toes and hurt some feelings. As often happens, these bad feelings have festered and spread. You have made some political blunders. You put advertisements in the Fall Fair prize book from several local businesses that some of the members consider to be working against local agriculture. Apparently these are not minor matters which call for reprimands or censure: these are infractions for which you must be excommunicated.

In my opinion, all of the things you stand accused of you did out of haste, ignorance, and excess zeal for the well-being of the Association and its members. I believe that all of the hurt feelings and all of the political gaffes could have been resolved if those concerned had been willing to sit down and talk them through. Unfortunately, no one took the initiative, and we have now probably passed the point at which mediation would have helped.

I can imagine that you feel abused and insulted, having spent who knows how many hours trying to do your best for the Association and its members. It was clear to me, as I witnessed the general meeting last Thursday, that nothing you could say or do was going to turn the situation around. No one even mentioned mediation or any effort to work through the conflicts. The verdict was in before the meeting began. And now it seems likely that the membership will press for new elections: the nuclear option when something less drastic would have sufficed.

I cannot thank you on behalf of the members, as I am no longer a member in good standing of the Powell River and District Agricultural Association. Instead, I thank you on behalf of the community, most of whom never even knew you were on the board. Thank you for doing your utmost to watch over the Association and keep it running. Thank you for working hard to make sure that the Fall Fair could go on. Thank you for doing the best you could in good faith and under difficult and stressful circumstances. Thank you for devoting your time and energy to this thankless child.

I wish you the best of luck.

Sincerely,
David Parkinson

To the members of the Association,

The die is cast. You will have an extraordinary general meeting at which you may elect a new board. Some friends and supporters of the current board will disappear and cease to be friends of the Association. No great loss, you may say. And presumably things will return to more or less the way they were before this board was elected. I wonder, though, whether this is really good for the causes that the Association stands for, and whether it is good for the community as a whole.

The people in the region who support local agriculture treasure the Open Air Market and the Fall Fair. But most of them have no direct connection to these institutions other than as consumers and well-wishers. The members of the Open Air Market and the Agricultural Association are mostly the vendors who have an obvious personal interest in belonging to the organizations which give them access to the markets where they sell their produce and crafts.

But the hundreds of people who shop weekly at the Open Air Market, who participate in the 50-mile challenge, who buy from local farmers, who grow their own food, and who generally subscribe to the values of the Agricultural Association — shouldn’t they also be members of an organization which works to further their interests?

I urge you to think about bringing the public into the Association as members. The public good is not served by having an unstable Association tottering from one board to another. Sooner or later, if things carry on as they have been doing, you will run out of members willing to serve on the board. Give the public, your best supporters, a reason and a way to join the Association. Make it clear what you stand for, tell people about it, and enlist their support and help.

Another thing you will need to do is clarify your principles and policies so that every member understands them. It is simply unacceptable to sack your board for violating principles or mission statements which have not been ratified by the Association and made clear to all members. If you must remove board members, it must be because they acted against principles that they clearly understood and explicitly endorsed when they stepped onto the board. And even then, you should all work towards a more forgiving culture, one that does not go straight from personal disagreements and well-meaning blunders to all-out war and slander. Your board members are human beings, fallible like you.

The following is the purpose clause from your constitution, as filed with the BC registrar when the Association was incorporated in 1995:

The purpose of the society (Association) is to establish and maintain a Farmers’ Market which will provide a marketing opportunity to local organic farmers, growers, producers, artists and crafts people; to improve production; to stimulate public interest; to increase consumption of local products and to spark the local economy.

This is your official statement of purpose. All other manuals, lists of rules and regulations, and vague statements of faith have no legal status and should not be considered binding on your members or board, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that they are official documents of the Association.

I think that you need to face the possibility that replacing your board is not going to solve the problems of the Association. In the past two years, the board has lost (by my count) six directors and an administrator through resignation. You are about to add a few more board members to that pile of bodies. Why can’t you find a stable board of directors? I suggest that you try to answer that question.

To my mind, about the only person who said anything decent at last Thursday’s meeting was the vendor who said that she has struggled with the backbiting and gossip floating around the Open Air Market. Her point was that all of this senseless bickering and division is destroying one of the finest things in Powell River. I feel the same way, and I suspect some of you do too.

I believe very strongly that it did not need to come to this, and that the mistakes of the current board came from an excess of zeal rather than from a desire to trample on the historical values of the Association or on the feelings of its members. I also believe that they would have been prepared to make amends, learn from their mistakes, and move on. However, these are moot points now.

Those of us who support the local food movement are aware of all the challenges: a population of aging farmers; the high cost of arable land; the lack of young trained farmers; a runaway regulatory apparatus from all levels of government making it hard to produce and sell food on a small scale; high import costs of feed and inputs; the list goes on. Why add to this list by creating division in the small and embattled group of supporters? Our main task is to find a way forward, to enlist greater support from the public — particularly from those who do not think exactly as we do. We need to continue to build a community around local agriculture, not allow it to divide itself and create rifts. We need to expect differences of opinion and occasional conflicts. We need to learn how to resolve these when they become serious.

I wish you the best of luck.

Sincerely,
David Parkinson

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27 Responses to “An open letter to the board and members of the Powell River and District Agricultural Association”


  1. 1 nicole narbonne November 2, 2009 at 21:13

    well said Dave. we were talking on the bus ride home about why we hadn’t suggested mediation. Mostly we thought it was too fragmented at this time. I think you have written some very good things here. I would like to see this resolve peacefully without losing a board that have done a mountain of good… but with some changes to both the association’s and the board’s way of communicating…. at the very least.
    good luck to all.

  2. 2 David Parkinson November 3, 2009 at 15:07

    Thanks, Nicole. I continue to hope that somehow this conflict can be resolved peacefully. There does need to be better communication about the association’s purposes and activities. There’s enough blame to go around, but one thing is clear to me: someone should have tried to intervene before the positions on both sides got so extreme. I’m still shocked when I think of how vicious the tone was the other night.

  3. 3 Fran November 4, 2009 at 18:08

    Very well put David. I know first hand how difficult the job of being a member of the Agricultural Association board is. I would suggest the Board needs our support not the kind of behaviour exhibited by some association members. As you say pretty soon we will have run out of members willing to put themselves through this hell of serving a 2 year term on the Board. Then what ?

  4. 4 Norma Sorensen November 14, 2009 at 10:49

    Okay–this all speaks to part of the problem. For one thing, a term on the board of the Ag. Assoc. is, according to the bylaws, one year not two. So many of the problems this organization is having result from a failure of people to teach or learn the very basics of things like bylaws, and it ends up perpetuating itself for years. Change is definitely needed and we can all agree on that. The question then becomes how to go about accomplishing this.

    The problem the board ran into, and I do not lump all the directors together in this, is trying to “take over” and tell people what was going to happen. You can’t do that with a community group, especially when the things they were trying to “fix” first were not the things that needed fixing. By the time they had their heads on right, they had angered a lot of people.
    I understand that they did a lot of work–so do a lot of other people who don’t expect anyone to even notice. So what? That’s how these things operate.

    The directors brought these problems on themselves. Going around the grounds, telling people they were “changing” everything, trying to “fire” the Market Management committee, and sloppily sending an email about kicking the Open Air Market off the grounds to the wrong people were just some examples. That’s where most of the gossip was coming from. Perhaps we need to acknowledge their part in a lot of this too.

    I was at the meeting in question as well, and I had to leave early due to pain issues. I can’t sit in a hard chair for more than a couple of hours. Perhaps if the President hadn’t been 25 minutes late, I could have stayed to the end. Opening the meeting with a director berating the membership and calling people who don’t agree with them “detractors” set the mood, but the members still sat and politely (for the most part) listened to what they had to say for quite some time.

    Personally, it saddens me that this happened. But I do not believe that it will destroy this Powell River institution. I also think that, if you were directly involved since the board was elected every market day with these people, you might see a different side to what happened. The atmosphere of uncertainty was horrible. I did not agree with “ambushing” the directors, but I do agree that something had to be done. You cannot work with a community group by stomping on people and “telling” them how it will be.

    I am hoping that this will get the membership interested again. Sometimes you need to almost lose something to understand its worth and potential. I know there are a lot of problems and I know things need to change with this Association. I also know you can’t do that by force and by selling out on long standing principles. The ads in the Fall Fair booklet were more than offensive because they were from businesses that don’t support agriculture: they were offensive because many of them were about cooperate industrial food and production. How does that fit with what the Association and Market is supposed to stand for? In case people have forgotten, that’s the little guy who makes and grows things at home.

    I am not disagreeing with everything you have said. I do not say that everything this board did was wrong. I am saying that you don’t work with people by making them mad. You don’t prevent gossip by gossiping yourself. And you don’t fix something before you know anything about it.

  5. 5 nicole narbonne November 14, 2009 at 12:28

    thanks Norma.
    I really appreciate your point of view, and insight.
    n

  6. 6 David Parkinson November 14, 2009 at 15:40

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Norma.

    You’re right that there is more than one way to see this situation. Obviously it’s a complicated mess with a lot of hurt feelings and miscommunication swirling around in there. I don’t think anyone’s entirely without blame. But I still feel that the situation could/should have been defused early on, before it got way out of control.

    If any lesson comes out of this, I hope it’s that we need to try harder to communicate honestly. People have definitely been confused about many aspects of the Association/Open Air Market, but maybe that confusion is getting cleared up.

    And no matter how badly the new board behaved, I cannot believe that it was deliberate and malicious. I think they are being treated in a way that well-meaning people in a small community should never be treated. I’m taking a hard line on that one.

  7. 7 Norma Sorensen November 14, 2009 at 19:11

    Once again, I have to say I agree with a lot of what you are saying. However, I think that you are overlooking (or maybe are unaware of) the “well-meaning” people who this board tried to summarily dismiss, fire or whatever you want to call it with no input from the membership. Whether those people were paid employees or volunteers, I would have to say they were the ones who were treated badly.

    As for early intervention, I’m not sure how that would have happened as the directors were not telling people a lot of what they were doing. There were emails flying in all directions, and at one point a director informed a member who asked a pointed question that the board, not the membership, made the decisions. How exactly do you deal with that?

    I did not like what happened at the meeting, and I really hate that people ended up shouting and crying etc. I am also aware that there we lost some potentially great board members. However, I think to a large extent that it’s a case of what goes around comes around, and that these directors were treated exactly the way they wanted to treat other people. And I’m taking a hard line on that one.

  8. 8 David Parkinson November 14, 2009 at 19:32

    It would be a good move for the Association to start figuring out exactly how its decisions get made. Usually decisions about paid employees and contractors fall completely within the mandate of the board. And usually that’s just fine with the membership, who don’t want to be hassled with that kind of thing.

    However, if the members want to have the power to oversee that sort of decision in future, then that calls for a full review of the by-laws and maybe a reorganization of the Association (for example, a committee to deal with paid employees and contract positions). Which, I think, would probably be a good thing to do anyway, since it would start to educate all the members (i.e., future directors) about how things really work. That could only help.

    In future, I Just hope that there is more clarity about everything in the Association and the Open Air Market. When people don’t know the rules of the game, they get wiggy and bad things happen. And then the fallout takes too much time and energy to clean up.

  9. 9 Susan Reid November 14, 2009 at 19:45

    David, You seem to think that the “BOARD” was treated unfairly and that members should have tried to mediate with them before taking the steps that were chosen. In order for mediation to happen both sides need to be willing to communicate. This board at no time indicated any such willingness to do so. Its underhanded actions right from the start did not foster trust between the market organizers, venders or volunteers for the fall fair and the board members.
    That there were issues that needed addressed in the areas of proceedures, policies and by-laws etc. is indisputable. I have tried for several years to work with the Agricultural board to get these worked out-including during the time that you yourself held the position of President. Nothing changed.
    As pointed out by earlier respondents to your letter, the board set the tone of this meeting starting with the president’s late arrival, followed by the blatant attack by Mr.McKenzie in his opening address.
    It seems this board thinks they have the right to take offense when called on for their behavior but feel others should take what ever the “board” want to dish out without response.
    It has been suggested that the actions taken at the last meeting by certain members were some kind of personal vendetta by those members for wrongs they felt they had been dealt by this board. I want to state plain and simple that this is was not the case. Had the board conducted itself according to the philosophies and values that the Agricultural Association uphold and had they sought the support and knowledge of members and voluteers who have participated for many years. Then perhaps members would not have felt the need to take the actions that have been taken.
    Did the “Board” accomplish some good? Undoubtedly. But, that does not negate the wreckless, insulting and generally poor manners used by certain members of this board to accomplish this “good”.
    What remains is that according to the one bylaw that board positions have to individually be voted on it was not a duly elected board. This is what we based our call for new elections on. Had the elections been done according to this bylaw-the membership would have had to consider an alternative-holding a “trial”- thereby addressing each member individually with what we felt their infractions were. Given the list of these infractions I don’t doubt that such a “trial” would have been held since the general membership were not happy with many of the actions taken by the board members.

  10. 10 David Parkinson November 15, 2009 at 08:53

    Thanks for your comments, Susan.

    First, I want to be clear that I did not say that it was the members’ duty to initiate mediation. The failure to defuse the situation before it got really ugly was an institutional failure. Someone, somewhere, should have stepped forward and tried to get between the factions with some proper mediation. That was not done, and the price of not doing it is a pile of bad feelings and a huge waste of time and energy. Imagine what the Association could be doing instead of consuming itself in this feud. It’s pitiful.

    Second, I’ve stated that there is blame on both sides. If my sympathies lean towards the board, it’s because I have some idea of the situation they found themselves dropped into, some of them having been brought in ‘off the street’ without a background in the Association. They were faced with a stressful and confusing situation which they had to straighten out pretty much on their own. I agree that they made mistakes and caused hurt feelings. I just don’t think they deserve the treatment they’re getting. It’s too harsh.

    The members of the Association really need to do some work to understand why this happened and to take steps to see that things start running more smoothly. Why did all but one of the previous board members resign? Why did this board have such a difficult time and cause so much discord in the Association? It’s easy to blame this on the individuals involved, to say they were rude or high-handed or something like that. But some of the problems come from the institutional culture, and those are things that the members can work on. Clarifying the constitution, by-laws, policies and procedures, and working to generate a culture of openness and respect would all be good places to start.

    I genuinely hope that the Association can work this stuff out. It’s painful to see so much positive potential getting derailed like this.

  11. 11 Norma Sorensen November 15, 2009 at 14:36

    You are absolutely right about the fundamental issues this Association faces. There are actually a number of us who have done some research and understand a lot of what has happened here. The biggest problem is indeed the lack of understanding of how things work and a real failure on the part of many past members and boards to make things “official” and therefore “real.”

    I think what this organization faces at the very bottom of it all is growing pains, which often happens to things that are started and not allowed to evolve. I also know, from talking to some of the “long timers” and past members, that there is a lot of resistance to any sort of change. For new members and people who have questions or problems with the current setup, there really is no where to go. That’s when gossip and backbiting starts.

    All of this, of course, creates a real challenge and things have come to an ugly head now. As I already stated, I am hoping that it can turn around. The first order of business would have to be figuring out what the Association is supposed to do and making it “official.” Once that is in place, then a new board would hopefully be able to function in an open and honest way with the membership and start to develop some of that potential you talk about.

    I still maintain that this cannot happen with a group of people who want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and stomp all over long standing traditions and members in the process. The trust is gone. Period. Dealing with this board could perhaps have been handled better, but that is still my bottom line.

  12. 12 David Parkinson November 15, 2009 at 15:28

    Thanks again, Norma, for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Let’s just hope that there will be opportunities for the membership to start talking about what they want the Association to be, and how they want to go about accomplishing that. There is enough work to do supporting our farmers and craftspeople, not to mention encouraging more (and younger) people to get involved with traditional agricultural skills. The sooner this crisis is behind everyone, the better.

    I hope that there will be a role in there for the non-farmers and non-vendors like me, who support the local economy and want to see it do well. Up to now, the Association has not tried to pull those people in, but I really think that that’s an important direction to go in. Think of all that the Ass’n could accomplish with many more members who sign on to the principles that the Ass’n stands for — as soon as the Ass’n can determine exactly what those principles are, of course. (I think people have a good general idea, but there should be a sort of ‘Constitutional Convention’ to refine them and get everyone to understand and support them.)

  13. 13 Val Wigton November 15, 2009 at 16:03

    I feel that a saying by Confucious really describes the current board. He said “if I hear it, I will forget it, if I see it, I will remember but if I do it I will understand”.
    I think this board stepped into a difficult though definately not impossible situation. While they were willing to sit on the board over half have never been a vendor, farmer or a fair competitor or volunteer. So while the ideas may have been there they didn’t understand the very relevent practical side of things.
    I agree that issues should have been talked out long before they got to this stage. However when they refused to talk to anyone it makes communication impossible. I know you feel mediation may have solved the situation. Eva van Loon hands out her business card as a professional mediator, so I am sure she understands the value of mediation. But it was never volunteed as a possible solution.
    I do disagree with you on your comment on the fall fair. I would say the fair happened in spite of the board. This years sucess was because of the hard work done by the many volunteers.
    I agree 100% with you that our market is very valuable and should be protected. Again this board was opting to not have our current market at the grounds next summer.
    This would’ve created 2 markets. One that went with Julie and who ever was left for the current location. Basically it would’ve probably killed both as there as so few farmers doing the market as it is, splitting them would be suicide. Who would’ve benefited then?
    I also agree with your statement that we will probably lose some very good people over this. But far more would’ve left had things continued they way they are.
    While this situation is horrible for both sides at least it is shaking members out of their complecency. Current members are asking themselves what the Ag association really stands for and old members are returning.
    This could be the fresh start this association needs to clarify issues and procedures, bring transparency to the membership and start taking on real issues vital to the farming community. Hopefully we can then try to get more of the general public interested in what we as the association are doing.
    I am very hopeful for the future.

  14. 14 David Parkinson November 15, 2009 at 16:40

    Thanks, Val.

    As I keep saying, I hope that the Ass’n can learn from this whole mess. It’s too bad that it took a crisis like this to shake things up. Meanwhile, some people are feeling really burned and unhappy. Let’s hope the next crisis isn’t quite as ugly and destructive. I’d like to see the Ass’n develop a culture of transparency in which everyone (especially the public!) understands what its purposes are as well as its principles. Non-members should be encouraged to become members; members should be encouraged and empowered to step into board positions; board members should be encouraged to push the Ass’n forward in new directions.

    I guess we can disagree about how we got into this predicament, but it sounds like there is some agreement about the best way(s) out of it. So that’s making me feel more hopeful… although I can’t say I’m “very hopeful” — not quite yet.

  15. 15 Val Wigton November 15, 2009 at 16:58

    Well said, David. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  16. 16 E. van Loon November 18, 2009 at 18:05

    David,

    These were the comments of Al McKenzie which have been characterised in these comments as an “attack” by him on others.

    Note the invitation at the end to any member, to bring any grievance to a Board member.

    As a long standing member, and now a Director on the Board, I would like to say a few words to the membership.

    Those of you who know me, know my word is my bond, I’m trustworthy, and I have your interest at heart.

    There are some of us who work tirelessly for the good of the Organization. Look around the grounds and we can see that many have come before us.

    You have a new Board and under Erin Wilson’s leadership, I am convinced that we can all look forward to new and interesting times.

    In the past couple of years we have had much dissension amongst the ranks. Some of our members have been harassed to the point where they quit as Board members, or the Open Air Market.

    This left us with no Board but a Manager who ran the Agricultural Association and the Open Air Market. This person was paid to do this, leaving us penniless by Fall Fair.

    Fall Fair once again was a roaring success, as Coordinator Val Wigton did a great job, as usual.

    We ran the Fall Fair with no money in the bank. Erin and Eva had to dip into their own pockets for float money.

    As a result of this, we had to insist on monetary controls, and a little more hands-on by the Board.

    Some of the old guard fought us tooth and nail against these controls, resulting in bitterness and hard feelings.

    As one of you, I urge you: don’t let detractors turn differences of opinion into a personal vendetta against the Board.

    It’s time to get past the petty bickering, and work towards a new and improved Agricultural Association where we all enjoy doing what we do, with a sense of satisfaction, and camaraderie.

    At this point, we promise you, if any member has a grievance or is unhappy with whatever, you may come to any Board member, and rest assured that things will be dealt with fairly, and in confidence.

    Thank you.
    Al McKenzie
    October 28, 2009

  17. 17 E. van Loon November 18, 2009 at 18:44

    A few corrections of fact:

    • PRaDAA has–and has had–no employees.
    • No one has been “fired” or “dismissed.”
    • PRaDAA had informal contracts with Val Wigton to run the Fall Fair, and with Julie Bellian to manage the Association.
    • Julie Bellian submitted her resignation of her own volition a few weeks after the AGM.
    • Val Wigton completed her contract and was paid in full.
    • PR&DAA has made no new contracts concerning Fall Fair or the farmers’ market.
    • PR&DAA has not made any decisions or sought any new contracts for the farmers’ market next summer.
    • PR&DAA’s lease or rental agreements are renewed as they fall due or become necessary.
    • There have been no “evictions” or intentions of same.
    • A review of the minutes taken at Board meetings will reveal that the Board has consistently made decisions only in accordance with its bylaws. PR&DAA, being a society, is bound by its constitution and bylaws, while an informal organisation like the Open Air Market is not.

    These facts were made public at the meeting, but may not have been heard in the climate that prevailed that evening; so they bear repeating and hopefully will give a puzzled public some comfort regarding the intentions and actions of the PR&DAA.

    Additionally, no member has approached the Board about mediating an issue. No one has resigned.

    E. van Loon

  18. 18 Norma Sorensen November 19, 2009 at 11:28

    Yes, the Market is informal and has operated for many more years than the Association has in this manner. If we want to talk about facts, there are more than a few you don’t address. The fact still remains that the Board attempted to “dissolve” the Market Management Committee this summer. The fact still remains that the board angered a lot of community groups and volunteers at Fall Fair, and the fact still remains that there was a lot of talk (and a certain email) that went around about removing the Open Air Market and replacing it with a different, board operated market. That same email commented on the current management and stated in no uncertain terms that the current management was doing a poor job.

    When I spoke of people getting “fired” in my post, I used the word somewhat ironically as the board was acting as if it had the authority to remove people (the Market committee, for example) who were doing things on a volunteer basis. As for “dismissing” people: there are many ways to do that, and I would submit that this board certainly did that. I don’t think anyone believes the board fired the administrator.

    Whatever individual directors now want to say about things, I was there every day during Market season and got it from all directions. The situation was not good, and we can all agree with that. One director went so far as to state (again, in an email) that the board made all the decisions, not the membership. I don’t know about you, but it wouldn’t even occur to me to approach a group with such an attitude about “mediation.”

    I understand that this group of people walked into a huge mess, and I have empathy for that. However, I also think that there was a certain amount of treating members like they are ignorant or don’t care what happens, and a lot of listening to individual members who are NEVER happy with anything. Every organization has these people, but if you start believing that every thing they say is how it is without speaking with everyone else (happy people tend to be busy and quiet), you are going to run into problems.

    Yes, Al’s comments look okay in print. However, once again it was a case of acting like members have no brains or awareness of anything going on: I think it was quite clear that there were more than just a few “detractors” in the room. I also notice you don’t mention his later tirades, in which he seemed to be claiming he was the only person who ever did anything and that the whole place would not exist without him. As for what the “minutes” of board meetings say: we all know that, unless they are actually recorded word for word by a device of some sort, they can say whatever they want. Normally, this wouldn’t even occur to me, but as one member (one of those normally quiet ones) said: “I’m sorry, but I don’t trust you guys.” I think that’s the bottom line, Eva.

    Any way, enough of this. Call the meeting and speak your piece, Eva. I understand that you have a different perspective on things. Get your chair to control the meeting (and maybe show up on time), and lets do it. This situation is serving no one, least of all the directors. We all need to know where we are heading next.

  19. 19 Norma Sorensen November 19, 2009 at 11:46

    By the way, it is not true that the board did not attempt to actually “fire” someone–what about the President “firing” the Fall Fair coordinator on the eve of the fair and then threatening to have her removed by the police when she refused to abandon the volunteers? I notice no one is talking about that. I wasn’t going to bring it up either, but I think it speaks volumes about the situation and what this board thinks it can do, and why people are being so “vicious” (to quote David) about it.

  20. 20 E. van Loon November 19, 2009 at 11:53

    While Norma is correct in that there are many other facts possibly pertinent to this situation, individual Board members cannot wade into that area. “Speaking one’s piece” as an individual is inappropriate for a Board member of any society. You doubtless understand that posts from Board members are restricted to what is already public knowledge. Any new material would come from the Board as a whole.

    Norma has raised a couple of issues, however, to which facts stated at the meeting can be reiterated. First, President Erin Wilson is a farmer. Second, as she was driving into town for the meeting, her truck broke down. That was the reason for the twenty-minute delay in her arrival.

    If Norma is indicating a wish to mediate a grievance, I will convey that to the Board.

  21. 21 E. van Loon November 19, 2009 at 12:29

    It appears yet another fact bears reiteration, regarding the Board’s alleged attempt to fire the Fall Fair Co-ordinator “on the eve of the fair.”

    As the Board said at the EGM (the October meeting), the PR&DAA’s wrists had been slapped for poor record-keeping of the 2008 Fall Fair finances. The Board was trying to avoid a repetition of that failing. The following letter, copies of which appeared to be circulating at the EGM, arose from the Fall Fair Co-ordinator’s refusal to accept any suggestions for improving the record-keeping.

    Powell River District Agricultural Association
    PO Box 221
    Powell River, BC, V8A 4Z6

    September 25, 2009

    Ms. Val Wigton,
    Fall Fair Co-ordinator

    Dear Ms. Wigton:

    Re: Fall-Fair Accounting and Records

    At today’s meeting of the Board of the PRDAA, the following facts were noted:
    1. You wrote by email to the Board on September 24, 2009, indicating, among other things, that you would not accept the Board’s decisions on how the accounting and record-keeping for the Fall Fair would be done (copy attached);
    2. Today you refused the Treasurer’s requests at least three times when she asked for a copy of the lists of vendors, non-profit organisations, and volunteer committee-heads;
    3. You denied that your decisions as Fall-Fair Co-ordinator are subject to the Board’s approval;
    4. You claimed that three members of the Board told you they would support your decision to keep records and carry out accounting just as it was done in the past (this subsequently proved untrue);
    5. You refused to meet with your heads of volunteer committees and Board members to work out a solution to the record-keeping problem;
    6. You carried on an argument with Board members, making accusations, interrupting, and loudly displaying anger within sight and hearing of Fall-Fair participants;
    7. You categorically refused appeals for co-operation by Board members; and
    8. You were overheard exhorting participants in the Fall Fair to withdraw their participation and/or to side with you in your disagreement with the Board.

    The Board has made the following decision as a result of the above:
    a. you will be provided with the receipt books prepared by Board members and $130 in floats;
    b. necessary cheques will be provided by the Board as soon as possible upon submission to them of adequate documentation to warrant those cheques;
    c. you will provide the Treasurer with the funds from the Fall Fair no later than Sunday, September 27, 2009;
    d. you will deliver to the Board complete, detailed, and accurate records of all monies taken in at the Fall Fair and all monies disbursed, as soon as possible after the Fair, and these records will include the following:
    i. records of entry fees taken at each gate on each day;
    ii. a list of 10% payments by vendors with the name and phone number of each vendor;
    iii. a list of non-vendor payments for stalls or spaces;
    iv. a list of non-profit exhibitors, their payments, names and phone numbers; and
    v. a table or list of winners and their amounts.
    e. You will be paid by cheque immediately upon receipt of the above records (provided you have also complied with (f) below); and
    f. You will immediately cease all slander or complaint about the Board, individual Board members, or the PRDAA itself to Fall-Fair participants, guests, or the public.

    We trust that the above documentation will avoid the record-keeping problems which besmirched the PRDAA’s Fall-Fair record in the past. We hope that you are right and that everything balances the first time. In any event, better record-keeping will greatly ease an audit should the PRDAA be subject to one.

    Be advised the Board takes no responsibility for any errors in financial record-keeping for the Fall Fair from this time on.

    Yours Truly,

    Erin Wilson, President,
    for the Board

    Note that Ms. Wigton’s ultimatum was made just two days before the Fall Fair. You may judge for yourselves how such an ultimatum could have affected her contract. The Board’s letter dated the day before the Fair, however, clearly does not terminate her contract.

    There was no “firing” of any kind.

  22. 22 Norma Sorensen November 19, 2009 at 13:00

    Wow–interesting that now individual board members can’t “speak their piece.” Maybe all of the directors should have been told that from the beginning, because it sure didn’t stop a number of them from talking all over the place all summer long.
    As for the president being late–the meeting could have started without her. Most of the members are also farmers or other such home based people and it was disrespectful to keep them waiting so long. Five minutes is one thing, but it was about 25 minutes before the meeting actually started.
    The board has received a registered letter requisitioning another meeting. According to our bylaws, you must call this as the letter was signed by at least 10% of the membership. Otherwise, the membership can have its own meeting. In any case, I would suggest, once again, that we just get on with it.

  23. 23 Val Wigton November 19, 2009 at 13:38

    You state in your letter Eva that the board is bound by the associaton’s bylaws. Our bylaws clearly state that this board’s election was illegal. A motion stating this fact and requesting a new election was totally ignored even though it was seconded. Also this board has now been served with a registered letter with the required 10% of membership signatures demanding a new meeting for new elections. Again our bylaws say a meeting must be called within 21 days and all members informed. Has a date been set?
    The reason for the lack of trust in this board’s leadership becomes obvious after reading your letter.
    No one was fired? What a blantant lie. On the Friday of fall fair you told me I was in breach of contract until I pointed out I didn’t have a contract. Then Erin told me “that was it, I was done and I was out of here”. I replied to Erin “You can’t fire me I am a volunteer”. I was threatened by Erin to being escorted off the property by RCMP. I think most people would consider that at the very least, this was an attempted firing. There were also witnesses to these statements. It was because I care about the fair that I even stayed. This board’s lack of knowledge about the events or even who the key volunteers were would have left the fair in shambles. Your remark that your own personal money had to be used as floats is nonsense as some of the outside vendors paid their stall fees on Friday leaving more then enough money for floats on Saturday.
    Secondly the OAM has never had a lease or contract with the ag association. It has just been an understanding that the market was held there. Again comments about no new leases or contracts being signed show this boards lack of understanding of the whole situation. You state that this board has made no decision on the OAM, yet the membership form you handed out in September had boxes that members could tick off for areas of interest. One of these was for market manager. If you weren’t looking for a new manager why even have that on there?
    As for your comment that this board is always prepared to listen to any member over any concerns, I did try to talk to you about illogical changes you were making to the fall fair, 2 days before the fair. I was told the board’s decision was final and that my opinion was unimportant. How does this foster open communication between members and the board? Several emails were also ignored.
    You stated that “speaking ones piece” was totally inappropriate for a board member. Does that include the very public shouting match Erin instigated when people were expecting to get paid after the fair?
    I am using all of these personal instances as I know some people think we could have chosen a less drastic path to take.
    As other people have pointed out this isn’t about a few things that could be written off as inexperience. It is months of ineptness,poor comunications and leadership and a board that doesn’t seen to be learning anything.
    Also when was it decided to start calling the Ag association which it has been called for years to PR&DAA? Aren’t there enough acronyms in Powell River already?

  24. 24 Val Wigton November 19, 2009 at 14:51

    By Eva showing the letter sent to me, it is another perfect example of how this board twists things to their advantage.
    Yes they did give me the letter but almost all of is untrue.
    The record keeping they were refering to was from the previous year when a deposit had been made that didn’t show on the deposit slip, what monies came from where. No money was missing, it had only been deposited in a lump sum. There are other records that show how much money was made from the gates etc. This board also implied there was money missing from the OAM. We have a certified accountant that audits our books every year. While she made some minor recommendations she NEVER said money was missing or unaccounted for either from the OAM or the fair.
    The money record keeping this board wanted to put in place was writing a receipt for any amount of money that people paid including someone paying their exhibit fee of $1.00.(which the board jumped from .75cents days before the fair). They also wanted to write cheques for any prize amount, yes even the $1.00 winners which would be done Sunday night. I talked to all my committe heads, long time volunteers, and some past board members, including both founding members who agreed with me this board’s recommended system was totally impratical and impossible to administer. Who gives a kid a cheque for a $1.00 prize? When paid in cash this money then usually gets spent back in the fair. Never mind who was going to write all these receipts because the board members weren’t volunteering. They also stated I was responsible for the money but the entire board was there in full force on Sunday taking over the vendor lists, etc before I had a chance to see them. I still do not know if all the vendors paid or how much was made. How do we trust a board that can’t even follow it’s own instructions?
    The rest of the letter is also a lie as to what I supposedly did or didn’t do. I don’t think this is the place to air all of this but if anyone wants proof as to my honesty they can email me directly and I will be happy to show them copies of the board’s emails to me and my responses to them or you can call me. I have nothing to hide.
    But it does show how underhanded this board can be. This is how gossip starts.They insinuated that monies from previous fairs and markets was mishandled and putting doubt as to the honesty of our hard working fair volunteers and market management. Yes they did say at another meeting that there was no market money missing but by then, possibly permanent damage to Julie’s character had already done by their own gossip.
    As to your statement Eva that my contract wasn’t terminated it was only because I didn’t have a contract to terminate.

  25. 25 Susan Reid November 19, 2009 at 14:52

    People really and truly, lets just get on with it-call the general meeting and hold the new elections-then we can move forward. Continual rehashing of all the things that were done wrong isn’t going to help make positive changes. We need to establish a board that will be accountable to the membership in all it’s dealings. One that is first dedicated to the beliefs and values that the founders of the Agricultural Association set and second that is dedicated to creating the policies and guidelines that ensure these beliefs and values continue. This will require review of existing bylaws -constitution and manuals
    and making changes as needed-with the full understanding and approval of all members!
    The new elected board, while perhaps doing the initial review, cannot and should not assume omnipotence in finalizing any policy changes.
    I can only hope that whoever the new board members are they work diligently to stabilize this Association and give its membership back the power and interest they have lost over the years.

  26. 26 David Parkinson November 19, 2009 at 15:15

    No matter what comes out of the next meeting of the membership, I think that it would be a good idea to introduce all members to the basics of societies in general and to the specifics of the Agricultural Association. The constitution and by-laws would be a good place to start, but people need to understand the documents which guide the activities of the association. Right now, the constitution is arguably off-base, since it talks only about running a farmers’ market. There might need to be some by-law changes, if only to accommodate board work in the internet era. And the question of policies is up in the air. There are manuals floating around which need to be fully reviewed and ratified by the board and/or membership.

    All that is going to be a lot of work. And a lot of the work involves educating the members, since amending the constitution and by-laws is NOT a matter for the board alone. I think that the era of ‘muddling along’ is now over, but that’s a good thing in the end. Members should not be in the dark about the associations they belong to. They need to feel a sense of ownership and a real understanding of what it is they’re doing. Clarity: that is what has been missing.

    I hope whoever ends up on the board is serious about getting this work done.

  27. 27 Susan Reid November 19, 2009 at 17:39

    Thank you David for reiterating what I just said.


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