In a four hour, special Turlock City Council meeting on Saturday – consisting mostly of semantics and revisions – the City Council moved forward in their endeavor to provide a fair process to determine a farmers’ market operator. A number of Turlock Certified Farmers Market supporters arrived to the Turlock City Council chambers to provide their input on the process.
Last month, the Turlock City Council held a meeting regarding how to proceed with two competing road closures. The closures were for the same time, the same place, and the same event, the Turlock Farmers’ Market.
The City of Turlock’s involvement with the current farmers’ market is limited to a street closure request, and last year, the City received a street closure request from Golden State Farmers’ Market Association for the exact same location and time as the Turlock Certified Farmers Market.
Under the current process, it is first come, first served. However, the definition of first come, first served was ambiguous as to whether it could refer to when a street closure request was submitted or whether it referred to a street closure request routinely submitted, such as the case regarding TCFM.
TCFM was notified by the City of the road closure request from GSFMA and would later submit their own, resulting in the competing process.
GSFMA also operates farmers' markets in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Copperopolis, and Hughson. Carmel and Hughson were awarded to GSFMA through government processes.
The Turlock City Council voted 4 to 1 (Councilman Steven Nascimento opposed) to pursue a request for proposal process to determine who would operate the market; this was pursued because there was no formal agreement between TCFM and the City. This was an idea supported by TCFM Board member Brandon Follet who suggested numerous criteria a RFP should consider.
The RFP received contributions and review from stakeholders including Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association and was presented to the public as soon as possible due to the upcoming market season to start in May.
“The reason we had stakeholders meet and work with staff on this is to make sure that we had all opinions and all perspectives brought into the fold,” stated Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth.
However, despite the input from TCFM Board members and stakeholders, the public found aspects of the RFP to have elements of bias.
RFP elements such as listing previous operated farmers’ markets was perceived by some members of the public as a bias toward GSFMA, however, this was clarified as a way for the City to check references and performance of the potential operator. It wasn’t a requirement to operate the market.
Additional elements requested by the public included a look into any possible litigation on the operators, having language that could allow City employees to be an operator reference, and a right of refusal.
TCFM supporters also advocated for the RFP to favor a nonprofit organization and to include a right of refusal to would be applied retroactively. The right of refusal would allow an operator to have the right to refuse to operate the market at the end of the contracted 3 year term. If the operator does not invoke the right of refusal, the market will be available to bids from other operators in a RFP process.
However, TCFM supporters wanted this aspect applied retroactively so that TCFM could have the market without needing to go through the process.
While the RFP was considered to be a fair route to 4 out of 5 City Councilmembers, many TCFM supporters did not believe that this was the correct process to take. Supporters advocated awarding the market to TCFM due to their operation of the market in prior years.
“I just don’t support this as the process. I think what we have identified as a flawed process was really a process with a loophole, and that loophole was taken advantage of and the decision of this body was to allow that loophole to bring us to this point,” stated Councilman Nascimento.
Councilman Nascimento was interested in halting the editing of the RFP, the purpose of the meeting, and engaging in a vote due to the criticism that the route had received.
“We, the City, are focused on creating a fair transparent process. It is flawed. It’s not just a simple loophole. It is flawed. It’s flawed for all of our events. The fact that an event can come downstairs and pull a street closure permit and be done with it, and there’s not other elements that are taken into consideration, I think, is a flaw. That’s why we’re here,” stated Mayor Soiseth.
“I don’t think we should just start basically saying who gets what, and I think we need to have some set of criteria. I wish Councils before me would have figured this out, but they didn’t.”
After edits to the RFP were made accentuating some finer details and providing more clarification on the interpretation of the language, the City Council voted 3 to 2, with Councilmembers Steven Nascimento and Bill DeHart opposing, to approve the RFP.
On related Council policy setting, Mayor Soiseth ran as a candidate on bringing transparency and accountability of government. He confirmed it in another process that was implemented with a reasoning to move away from any perception of protectionist practices.
Just before Mayor Soiseth was elected and seated in December 2014, Councilmembers Nascimento and Bublak were both on a previous Council that voted in a decision the month before to move forward with awarding the Turlock Chamber of Commerce with a $249,000 CVB contract.
However, Councilwoman Bublak was the only one who voted against the contract because she asked for results, stats, and data toward accountability for the near $250,000 contract that had never been challenged. City Staff and Chamber administration knew about the same questions the week prior but would not provide any information to Councilwoman Bublak at the Council meeting.
Once Mayor Soiseth was seated, in January 2015 Soiseth initiated the termination of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce contract and began a RFP process for tourism and marketing services for the City of Turlock.
The Turlock Chamber of Commerce had provided tourism and marketing services for the City of Turlock as it operated the Convention and Visitors Bureau for 20 years. The Turlock Chamber of Commerce pulled out and quit the process before an RFP process was put out to bid.
Afterward, Mayor Soiseth stated it was not about the actual services provided, but rather, “Instead, this vote was an opportunity for this Council to state that we stand for transparency, competition, and accountability when it comes to all expenses, both small and large.”
The Turlock Chamber of Commerce was informally audited by the City of Turlock and found to owe back the City while Council decided to hire an outside firm to conduct a formal audit.
Nascimento also was the lone dissenting vote on that step of the process.
TurlockCityNews.com will research and update the community on policy setting processes such as the Turlock Chamber of Commerce contract and a Turlock farmers’ market proposals.
Turlock Farmer's Market Committee Seeks Community Input by Friday