February 26, 2020

Council, citizens spar over farmers’ market

The Brewer City Council decided Tuesday night to get into the farmers market business by voting 3 to 1 to accept an amended version of the so-called majority report of the ad hoc committee formed to study the Farmers Market issue.

A number of Brewer residents spoke to the councilors urging them not to accept the report.

Geraldine Black spoke on the history of the controversy and said the report could have been written six months ago because nothing the committee did changed any preconceptions.

She charged that the objective of the ad hoc committee was to discredit and dismantle one of the best farmers markets in the state. She said appreciation and respect for the market was never shown, even when the evidence was presented.

Phyllis Shotner of the farmers market gave her version of the history of the controversy taken from transcripts of the town’s official taped records, she said.

She leveled particular criticism at Councilors Michael Maybury and Alan Whittemore, challenging Maybury to be ready to present his evidence of requests from citizens for entrance into the market when the Attorney General asks for them.

She questioned procedures and the legality of a straw vote called by the council at an earlier meeting.

Maybury responded by submitting two letters from constituents who wanted to join the market and were refused and had them read into the record.

Michael Xirinachs, a member of the Recreation Committee and a member of the ad hoc committee, questioned the legality of Maybury’s right to vote on the issue, claiming there was a conflict of interest because Maybury was a chairman of the ad hoc committee.

Xirinach also questioned how a member of the ad hoc committee who missed seven or eight meetings could even participate in the majority report. The scheduling of some ad hoc committee meetings did not give the public adequate notice, he said.

He too told the councilors that all tapes of all meetings on the issue had been transcribed. He accused Maybury of having a personal vendetta.

Council Chairman Whittemore ruled that Maybury did not have a conflict of interest because he did not stand to gain monetarily in any way by his vote.

Xirinachs asked the council to seek a legal opinion before voting on the issue and to table it, but Whittemore said that was not necessary.

Farmers market master David Kousky said the market had been accused of being dictators by Councilor Paul Hatt, but the majority report dictated what could and could not be sold by the farmers market.

James Smith, who owns Flowers By Us, said he didn’t believe the council should allow the farmers markets, either the existing one or the proposed one, to take money “out of our pockets.”

He said he sells flowers and pays taxes to the city, but the people in the market pay no taxes and take their money out of the city. “I don’t think they should have the right to sell flowers,” he said.

Andrew Freeze said everything conflicts with another business. He was critical that no consumer advocates were on the ad hoc committee. He said that any market proposed by the city should include only goods made in Maine.

He also wanted to know who the three people would be who would govern the market, as mentioned in the majority report recommendations.

Xirinachs said it was unfair to criticize the market for not paying anything to the city when the city refused to accept any money that was offered. He said it was unfair to call them freeloaders.

He again asked Whittemore if he would get a legal opinion on Maybury’s right to vote and Whittemore said “No.” Xirinachs warned him that he would make a protest.

Stan White, also a florist, told the council it was sending mixed messages to the community by calling for economic development then allowing unfair competition against existing businesses. He listed all the ways local businesses benefit the city.

Whittemore commended the local merchants who spoke and told them it took a lot of courage to say what they did, and to risk retaliation by some who would stay away from their stores because of their opinions.

At the suggestions of Councilor Gerald Robertson, the council took amendments from the floor. Councilors voted to make the auditorium market sell only edible goods.

An attempt to limit it to just Brewer residents failed and an attempt to limit it to just 36 people also failed. Most of the votes were 3-1, with Councilor Larry Doughty, who said he did not feel the town should get into the bureaucratic nightmare of opening a market, voting against the majority of Robertson, Hatt and Maybury.

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