Chamber defies city, vows to proceed with Farmer’s Market

  • City owns the Farmer’s Market, all logos and other Intellectual Property.
  • Chamber director defies City decision to close the Market this year.

By Miki Mullor
Editor

The Sammamish Chamber of Commerce vowed to defy the City Council and proceed with the annual Farmers Market despite the city cancelling all its sponsored public events this year due to the Coronavirus crisis.

Deb Sogge

The Chamber has managed the Market under contract to the City since 2009. The City also partially funds the Market.

But the director of the Market, Deborah Sogge, claims the Market is a Chamber event despite a clear City contract and five-figure funding from the City budget—taxpayer dollars.

The Market has been held in City Plaza since inception. 

Canceling all city-hosted/sponsored events

The Council on April 15 canceled the Market, the 4th of July celebration, the Party on the Plateau and other city-hosted or sponsored events due to the virus crisis. At the time, the state was also under a general Stay at Home order from Gov. Jay Inslee.

Council action canceling all events except the Market was generally unanimous. However, the Market cancelation was split along 5-2 voting factions that have been in place since January.

Voting to cancel the Market were Mayor Karen Moran, Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow and members Ken Gamblin, Kent Treen and Chris Ross. Opposing the action were members Jason Ritchie and Pam Stuart.

The city attorney this month advised that Ritchie, who is a member of the Chamber’s Board, must recuse himself from voting on Chamber matters due to the conflict of interest.

Defying the council

Confusion set in when the Market’s website (www.sammamishfarmersmarket.org) and Facebook page announced the day after council’s action it would nevertheless operate this year, only at a different location. The announcement, made by the Chamber, set it on a course for conflict with the City Council. 

It did not help that the Chamber leadership actively campaigned against the currently elected Council majority during the last election.  Disinformation quickly followed on social media with accusations of political revenge. 

The Sammamish Comment, through extensive research of documents and emails, has uncovered the facts behind the scenes.

How the Farmers Market started 

In 2007 the City of Sammamish worked with the Chamber to start a farmer’s market in Sammamish. The City was no stranger to the Chamber. The then-City Manager, Ben Yazici, was previously the President of the Chamber in 2004.

The City signed a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) with the Chamber to fund start-up costs of a Farmers Market in Sammamish. The City earmarked $40,000 for the Chamber to use to cover “costs related to the start-up, planning and initial operation.”  This July 2007 MOU committed $10,000 to cover such costs. The agreement also contemplated free use of City Plaza.  While MOUs are not complete agreements, one could have been understood from reading it that the parties are working together as partners. 

In 2009 the partnership became a contractor relationship. This contract makes it clear the Farmer’s Market is a city event, with taxpayer dollars subsidizing costs.

The contract also makes it clear the Chamber is only a manager under contract—not the owner of the Market:

The agreement specifically stated that the City will pay the Chamber $10,000 to “operate and manage the Sammamish Farmers Market:” 

The agreement then goes on to detail what the specific duties of the Chamber and the specific of the City with respect to the Market.

To avoid any confusion about past agreements, such as the MOU, the agreement includes a section that effectively deemed the 2007 MOU not existent:

Chamber agreed to City Terms and Conditions

Just like any other contractor, the Chamber agreed that any document or data, regardless of form or format, belongs to the City. The City Council now contends that the Market’s website, Facebook page and logo, fall under the definition of “documents” accordingly:

The Comment reviewed all subsequent Market-related agreements between the Chamber and the City. Those all are identical in terms.

Under the agreement, the Chamber committed to provide the City detailed reports on the operations of the Market.  The Comment obtained several of these reports, in which it is clear Sogge understood the Chamber is hired by the City, not that the Chamber owns the Market.

For example, in this report, dated 9/25/2019, Sogge thanks City Staff for the opportunity to manage the market for the City for the last 12 years, acknowledging the City’s control of the Market:

The Comment reached out to Sogge, CEO of the Chamber, to confirm no other agreements exist to contradict the research.

Sogge did not respond. 

Health crisis and no approved plan 

In January, the City awarded the Chamber the agreement to manage the Market in 2020 – just like it did in the previous 12 years. 

But on March 24, following Gov. Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, Sogge reported to Chris Jordan, the City’s Recreation Manager who oversees the Market, that the Market is allowed under the order and that “our sponsors and vendors are operating as if we will operate as planned.” Jordan replied with caution: “Can you let me know what exactly the farmers market is doing in King County for precautions?”

A few days later, on April 3, Jordan notified Sogge that the interim City Manager is considering cancelling all events on City property in May, including the Market.  

Three days later, Sogge presented to Jordan her plans for management of the market during the 2020 Covid-19 restrictions.  

Jordan replied 90 seconds later: “This is perfect”. 

On April 14, Sogge sent Jordan King County’s specific health requirements. “Leonard Winchester [King County Health Coordinator] and I read through each to be sure I was compliant.”  The document was not a plan, though. It was the list of requirements for a plan anyone plans to submit.

This time, a more skeptical Jordan wanted to make sure King County approved the plan:

Sogge did not reply.  

That night, as we reported, the City Council voted to cancel all events in the City, including the Market, due to health concerns.

The following are the official minutes from the April 14 Council meeting: 

Chamber defies City Council decision 

The following day, at 11am, the Chamber announced that the Sammamish Farmers Market will be held starting June 3, contrary to the City Council’s decision. The announcement was made on the Market’s Facebook page and subsequently on its webpage:

At 2pm that day, Jordan emailed Sogge the City Council’s decision to cancel all events in the City and asked to remove the City’s name and logo from the Market’s website:

Sogge replied with a suggestion that the Public Health department maybe be able to override the City Council, pointing to Seattle as an example:

Several Council Members told The Comment the Chamber’s unilateral actions using the Farmer’s logo and social media account caused confusion with residents and therefore left the City no choice but to demand the return of the Market’s assets to the City’s control, including the Market’s website, Facebook page and logo. 

On the May 19 City Council meeting, City Council voted 5-1 to direct the interim City Manager to “identify and pursue all of the City of Sammamish Farmer Market related intellectual property.” 

(Council Member Ritchie had to recuse himself from the vote because of his conflict of interest as a board member of the Chamber.)

Disinformation on social media 

Following the City Council decision, multiple residents connected to the Chamber began spreading disinformation regarding the City’s ownership of the market, even though legal agreements and Sogge’s own reports show the Chamber understood it is a contractor working for the City to manage the Market:

Political vendetta? 

Supporters of the Chamber accused Mayor Moran and the City Council majority on social media of a political vendetta against the Chamber because the Chamber  then-President, Karen McKnight, ran against then-Mayor Christie Malchow. Malchow was reelected by a 2:1 margin. The Chamber supported two other candidates for open seats. They, too, were defeated by margins of up to 2:1.

Critics pointed to the refusal of City Council to renew its $850 annual Chamber membership early this year, the closure of the Market and the demand to return the Market’s assets to the City. 

The Chamber enjoyed a special relationship with the City for a long time. The contracts for running the Market were no-bid contracts, excluding any other organization from that opportunity.  When the Town Center developer and Market sponsor STCA wanted to host a dinner party at City Plaza for its supporters, the Chamber secured a free use of the space from the City. 

The cozy relationship with the Chamber even led to Sogge interviewing candidates for the City’s Human Resources Director role, the City told The Comment. 

Former City Manager Rick Rudometkin invited Sogge to interview HR Director candidates because “he had recently been introduced to Ms. Sogge at the Farmer’s Market. When assembling and looking to round out the interview panel, she was a person fresh in his mind.” No other private citizen has been invited to interview future City employment candidates. 

It is understandable that the Chamber loss of special privileges at City Hall may be viewed as political. However no evidence could be found to support the allegation. The Chamber or its supporters on social media, when challenged, couldn’t provide proof beyond conspiracy theories. 

One simple fact negates the political vendetta theory: the City, on January 28, one month after the new Council took office, awarded the Chamber yet again the contract to manage the Market this year, without taking other bids. The new City Council could have easily ordered staff to hold a public bid for the Market this year, or simply award it to a third party–but it didn’t. 

Politics was involved 

The political argument is not without merit, though. However, it is more complicated than the candidacy of McKnight.  In this election, the Chamber took an active role campaigning against the City Council majority, incumbent and newly elected. 

In July 2019, the Chamber started a blog called Sammamish Now, self-described to provide “accurate accounts on local issues.” Sammamish Now published opinion pieces supporting the Town Center and targeting the City Council majority’s agenda and candidacies.  The website was promoted through online advertising during the election. It has not been updated since October 29, 2019.

Although officially the website said it is “Led by the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors,” in reality it was run by Sogge, Julio Richburg,  a Chamber’s VP, and Council Member Jason Ritchie. Sogge confirmed this in an email sent The Comment on September 6.

The Chamber also stirred controversy by insisting on holding a candidate forum, while its president was a candidate and the moderator was a board member who contributed to her campaign.  

If indeed the City Council had political motives behind ordering the City to take back control of the Market’s website and Facebook page, then the Chamber’s use of the Market for political purposes certainly didn’t help, as seen in this example of the Chamber using the Farmer’s Facebook page to promote their political activity. 

Yet in one document obtained by The Comment through a public records request, the Chamber prohibited any political activities via the Farmer’s Market.

Disclaimer

Disclaimer: The Chamber also attacked The Comment on its Sammamish Now website during the election cycle, calling it “propaganda,”providing false narrative” and being “clearly partisan.” 

In a Sept. 5 email to The Comment, Sogge said that, “The Chamber’s view of Sammamish Comment has always been that it is a blog and as such we take things as opinions there, not news.”

The irony of this statement considering Sammamish Now’s blog status seemed lost on Sogge.

Reference:

UPDATE: May 26

The Chamber posted the following message on the Market’s Facebook page.

Get real time updates to your email when news are posted. Your email will not be shared with third parties

Join 1,428 other followers



Copyright (c) 2020 The Sammamish Comment

1 thought on “Chamber defies city, vows to proceed with Farmer’s Market

  1. Another example of how corrupted this city had become. Self dealing parties flaunting established codes and rules, or using taxpayer funds for their own interests. YMCA community center $ diversion (what became of that?), unauthorized approval of new construction, and now the farmers market. Let’s see if the new leadership is able to clean out the “swamp”.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s