After a rocky week for the Hermiston Farmer’s Market, it is now scheduled to open May 24 under the name Maxwell Market.
A week ago it wasn’t certain Hermiston would have a farmers market at all. At a vendors meeting last Wednesday, organizer Mitch Myers announced he was canceling the event, which had been slated to start June 2, due to a dispute with the city over the Maxwell Pavilion that was to be the market’s new home. On Thursday, citing a flood of calls from disappointed citizens, city parks and recreation director Larry Fetter said Hermiston was willing to host the market on its new festival street, which is also under construction. On Friday, Myers then announced he had decided to hold a farmers market on a different property he owns, and he “could care less” what the city did in response. On Monday, the city announced that it wasn’t interested in holding a competing market and would defer to Myers if he was indeed holding one after all.
“Our only interest is in ensuring that there will at least be a market this summer, regardless of who operates it,” city manager Byron Smith told the city council. “If that means it’s Mitco and that market appears to be viable, then that’s excellent, and we can step aside again.”
According to Myers, the Maxwell Market will run Thursday evenings from about 4-8 p.m. with live music starting at 5 p.m. The market will be held on property Mitco owns on South First Street, across the street from the Maxwell Event Center located at 145 N. First Place. Myers said it will take place under a temporary shade tent until the Maxwell Pavilion is completed.
He also said he is waiving all vendors’ fees and providing items like tables and security for vendors at no charge. The market is expected to start Thursday, May 24.
According to Myers, Fetter approached him last year on behalf of the city and asked him if Mitco would be willing to take on the event at the Maxwell Pavilion, a 4,000 square foot shade structure Mitco is building at 255 S First Place. In February, however, Myers claims he had an argument with city building official Chuck Woolsey and that Woolsey immediately shut down work on a separate Mitco project known as the coal bin building, which Mitco was renovating to turn into a restaurant. In response, Mitco’s attorney sent the city a notice that Mitco intended to sue.
At the beginning of May, Woolsey placed a second stop-work order on the Maxwell Pavilion project and sent Myers a list of requests for information he calls “unreasonable,” including requiring a plan for door latches and restrooms despite the structure not having doors or restrooms.
During the vendors meeting when Myers announced the cancellation he accused Woolsey of being a bully and holding up his projects out of personal dislike. In an hour-long, often colorful speech, he said dealing with the city’s building department was like “playing chess with a pigeon” because Woolsey was “full of poop” and others at city hall needed to “grow a pair” and handle the problem.
On Monday, Smith read a memo into the record about the situation, stating that the Maxwell Pavilion project would be an “excellent venue” for the farmers market and other events, and the city was still “very supportive” of Mitco’s vision and projects.
Smith said Mitco applied for a building permit on April 26 and initial plan review comments were returned May 7, approximately seven business days later. He said that the city’s building department has been busy handling a number of other major projects including the data centers, Ranch & Home and the new Lifeways facility. Smith said that Myers’ issue with the city seemed to be that he was not given priority status over those projects.
“The problem with that is that we view everyone’s projects as important; not just ones that we’re a major funding partner on,” Smith wrote. “That’s why we treat all projects the same. I think seven days to turn around an initial review is perfectly normal, and it was handled the same as all other applications.”
He also addressed other claims Mitco had made, including statements that it was unreasonable to require plans for things like restrooms and door latches when the pavilion wasn’t going to have restrooms or doors. Smith attached a floorplan provided by Mitco to the city in the fall, when the city was making a deal with Mitco to provide $220,000 in support of the pavilion and parking project. Those drawings do show restrooms and possible doors on the building, and Smith said Woolsey was trying to clear up confusion about “vague and conflicting” documents.
During Monday’s council meeting a few people made statements in support of Myers. The strongest came from Robert Smith, who plans to be a vendor at the market. He called for both Woolsey and Fetter’s resignation or firing.
“For those of you who are here, I suggest you cut ties with the city of Hermiston, as they can no longer be trusted,” he told the audience.