The farmers market will return to Sammamish Commons in 2021 after a dramatic week of wrangling in which a contract dispute between the city council and the market’s organizer threatened to cancel the event for a second year in a row.
Council members approved a path forward on May 25 for the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce (SCC) to host the farmers market within city limits this summer. In a 6-1 vote, the council approved a motion to allow SCC to apply for a special use permit to organize the market right next to City Hall. Councilmember Kent Treen voted no on the motion.
However, the city will not be contributing any funding to support the event, as opposed to previous years when it provided $10,000 to subsidize the market.
“We’ve been doing this market we created and we operated for years, so we know what we’re doing,” Deborah Sogge, the executive director of SCC, said in a Sammamish Independent interview after getting the city’s approval. “We just want to do our job and do it best for the community.”
The city’s decision came after a pair of tense discussions about the event that centered around city officials trying to gain access to SCC’s financial records.
During an initial discussion on May 18, City Attorney Lisa Marshall claimed that SCC did not provide necessary financial documents to show how they used the $10,000 in city funds, as stipulated in their 2019 contract. She recommended against contracting with SCC until these records were delivered, and most of the council members were in agreement.
“When you submit a credit card bill to your employer for reimbursement, receipts are typically required,” Marshall said. “That would certainly be something we would expect would be available for us to look at here and we were not able to.”
Councilmember Pam Stuart disagreed. Without any specific suspicion about SCC’s use of public funds, Stuart believed the council had no reason to prevent SCC from hosting the farmers market.
When the city issued a request for proposals for the farmers market in April, SCC, which had organized the farmers market since 2008, was the only organization to submit a proposal. During the May 18 meeting, SCC representatives even offered to host the farmers market for free, without the city’s $10,000 contribution.
The council was inundated with public comments advocating for approval of the farmers market. It received 83 public comment emails expressing support for SCC to host, according to Stuart.
Still, in a 6-1 vote, the council passed a motion during the May 18 meeting to give SCC a one week deadline to deliver five years worth of financial records. If they failed, the farmers market would be canceled for the entire season. Stuart was the lone dissenting vote.
Three days after that meeting, an online petition for the council to approve SCC’s farmers market proposal began circulating in the community, ultimately gathering more than 350 signatures.
SCC also published an open letter on May 25, claiming that the city asked for financial records that were beyond the bounds of their farmers market contract, including their “tax returns, complete company profit and loss statements, a list of our vendors and many proprietary marketing and work items.”
“All the things that (the council) asked us for had been prior submitted, and some of the things they asked for they weren’t entitled to see,” said SCC President Alan Finkelstein in a Sammamish Independent interview.
Council members revisited the issue in a nearly two-hour special meeting on May 25, with tensions against SCC smoldering.
The council could not let itself “be held hostage” by allowing the SCC to refuse to provide information and still renew its contract, Councilmember Ken Gamblin said.
In a last ditch effort to find common ground, Stuart asked the council to focus on its role and “look forward” to allow the farmers market to commence without the $10,000 city subsidy.
The council eventually backed down from its threat to cancel the market, and approved Stuart’s motion. This allows SCC to organize the farmers market while avoiding a new city contract to provide funding.
Finkelstein, SCC’s president, welcomed this compromise.
“At the end of the day, the cloud has been lifted off of some average consumers. The residents are gonna be able to come to the farmers market, the city council…can say that they helped us get to where we are,” he said. “There’s bigger issues in Sammamish than the farmers market.”
Opening day for the farmers market is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, June 9, pending final approval by the city’s Parks, Recreation & Facilities Department.