Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Who is minding the store at the Farmers Market?

by Ken Jakes

Ken Jakes
"Who is minding the store" is an expression I use when referring to the Nashville Farmers Market. Before the new farmers market was built, the old farmers market always generated revenue and even created a surplus. This was when the market had produce wholesalers and allowed traffic to pull into the market and stop at the sheds to trade with the farmers and produce vendors.

Now, the design is for traffic is to park outside and people to walk in and stroll down the isles of what few vendors there are remaining. A successful market should be designed to support the farmers. Can you imagine buying a bushel of beans, a bushel of sweet potatoes, and three watermelons and carrying them to the parking lot to your vehicle?

I wonder how much tax dollars Nashville wasted paying some out of town consulting firm to design the new farmers market that has been a losing design for the taxpayers ever since it was built. Not only is the design of parking outside the market a totally wrong approach for a farmers market, not allowing produce wholesalers, like at the old farmers market, is a totally wrong approach as well. I know first hand; my uncle, Ellis Jakes started Ellis Jakes Produce in 1982.

Jakes Produce and Ernest Williams Produce were the largest wholesalers at the old market and there were others as well. It takes wholesalers to help move sufficient volume for the farmers to make a profit. It took truck load volume to make it practical for the farmers. Where are the many farmers who used to bring their truck loads of agricultural products for sales? They are now going to the markets at Birmingham, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Louisville, and Atlanta.

The wholesalers were the revenue producing stream for the Market. They operated large numbers of sheds year-round. With the wholesalers gone and a short growing season for Tennessee, the taxpayers are left with the burden of carrying and paying the way for the market. Again, I wonder how much Nashville paid some consulting firm to create this total mess.

Enough said about the design, so lets me just state a few of the serious issues I have uncovered in just the last few weeks just prior to the Nashville Farmers Market seeking from the Council hundreds of thousands of dollars on the backs of the taxpayer. My load to carry as a taxpayer is getting more then I care to carry.
  • The Nashville Farmers Market had a contract employee without a contract. (what!)
  • This contract employee invoiced herself for labor for the Farmers Market for services. (Really!)
  • This same contract employee, who was not listed as an employee of the Market, had keys to the administrative offices to go and come at will without an employee of Nashville Farmers Market present. (Ridiculous!)
  • This contract employee opened an account in her personal name and was using it for receiving credit card funds of the Nashville Farmers Market into this account. There doesn't need to be a policy in place to know that this is wrong. Anyone with one ounce of common sense would see the error of depositing public funds into a personal account. By the way, the Nashville Farmers Market was already receiving credit cards into the Market's account. I wonder why there was a need to open a new personal account to receive public funds? (Unspeakable.)
  •  The Market starting having night time markets and selling wine by the glass at five dollars a glass. This was being done by the Nashville Farmers Market itself with the proceeds and revenues to go to the Nashville Farmers Market. How could they break even on this venture when 94 cases of wine was unaccounted for in funds or surplus? (1882 glasses of wine at five dollars a glass equals revenues of $9,412.92 not accounted for.)
  • The Market collecting cash and not giving receipts for cash collected? Does anyone else besides me see a problem in the accounting?

Tammy's Produce, who has now left the Market since the summer of 2012, had two empty coolers that were hooked up to the market's electricity. I visited the market on Wednesday April 4th and I noticed the coolers still running. I walked over and opened the door and I was shocked to see both coolers were cold and had been running non-stop since the summer of 2012!

This was just after the Nashville Farmers Market went before the Mayor for the budget hearings seeking hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to keep the market open. I reported this to the Nashville Farmers Market and they have now turned the breakers off and shut down the coolers. How many thousands of dollars have these commercial walk-in coolers drained from the taxpayers wasting electricity?

The Nashville Farmers Market accounting system has been in shambles. Even an accounting done by a CPA could not confirm all of the revenues collected by the Market as they were operating in cash without receipts.

The last wrong approach of the Nashville Farmers Market is that they have just increased the rent on the produce sheds to $644.00 per month for the ten foot wide sheds. There is no way the produce vendors can pay this ridiculous rent for outside sheds exposed to freezing conditions and other elements of nature. Some of these vendors have cut their teeth on the market you might say. Some have spent more then thirty-five years operating sheds at the market but this ridiculous rent will, in time, drive the few remaining vendors away. The Market is trying to make the produce vendors pay for their mismanagement.

The successful business approach would be to lower the rent, fill up all the empty sheds that have been vacant for years, and net more revenue for the Market. If the board doesn't change direction they will be back seeking hundred of thousands of dollars in revenues again.

The Market has been in the past, and could be today, a self supporting enterprise eliminating the burden off the backs of the taxpayers. However, in order to be a thriving market the Board will have to start applying common sense and a sound business model.

I could go on forever and I am still going over the books and going through public records, but what I have seen so far is an absolute mess.

Ken Jakes is a citizen activist discovering and exposing government corruption and waste. He is a former and probably future candidate for public office

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