City Commission to solicit bids for new operator for popular downtown Sunday market
STUART – The City Commission voted unanimously March 22 to cancel its contract with Stuart Green Market, Inc. and to issue a request for proposals for a new operator to continue managing the popular downtown Sunday market.
Over the decade of its existence, the Stuart Green Market has evolved into something much more complex than the fruits and vegetables its name implies. On any given Sunday, patrons can buy jewelry, artwork, clothing, cosmetics, plants, baked goods and, yes, fruits and vegetables. Problems rose to the forefront with the city over the last several months, however, after current market manager Kevin Osburn failed to produce documents city staff required related to insurance liability and the market’s tax-exempt status prior to 2019.
During the Commission’s March 15 meeting, Mr. Osburn admitted that late market founder Bernie Malone had never shared tax info with him prior to his death in 2018, and the former did not address the Board during the latest discussion launched by Commissioner Troy McDonald.
“I just have a couple of questions of staff,” he said. “Have we received any information from the current Green Market that we requested at the last meeting?”
Community Services Director Jim Chrulski said that he’d had no contact from Mr. Osburn.
“We have not received any updated financials?” Commissioner McDonald continued.
“No sir,” Mr. Chrulski answered.
“Okay, I’ll make a motion that we approve the resolution terminating the agreement,” the commissioner said.
Commissioner Mike Meier seconded the motion while expressing concern the 60-day minimum notification to Mr. Osburn might also negatively affect the Green Market’s vendors, many of whom have participated for years.
“I know that we have 60 days in our out-clause, but I would propose that we set the effective date to be maybe by the end of April, so that we have 90 days,” he said. “I want us all to have plenty of time to talk about what our expectations for the market are, and potentially time to reveal proposals. Sixty days to me just seems way too tight, and I don’t want the vendors to be left holding the bag.”
Vice-Mayor Merritt Matheson, however, suggested the city have its staff oversee market operations beyond that two-month notice period if necessary.
“Sometimes it’s best to rip a Band-Aid off as quickly as possible,” he said referring to current Green Market management. “The advantage I see is our staff is even more educated as it comes to signing a new license agreement with anyone else or any other future managers should we move down that route. We could extend the agreement [to] 90 days, or we could move forward with the motion on-hand, but also instruct our staff to handle the market in the interim.”
City Attorney Michael Mortell agreed that either time period would work but discouraged the Board from going beyond three months.
“I would not push this into 2022 because I’d be conscious of the fact that we have a non-cooperating person,” he said referring to Ms. Osburn. “We don’t even know if he’ll do it for the 90 days – he has not responded to the city since that last meeting. We’ve had zero communication with him, he didn’t produce any of the records, [and] he didn’t respond at all.”
While Vice-Mayor Matheson expressed concern that some vendors might think the city wanted to close the market permanently, Commissioner McDonald worried more about the city’s legal liabilities while the current operator is still in control.
“I’m deeply concerned, not only about the finances, but about the insurance issue,” he said. “I’ve talked to Mr. Mortell about one of the insurance issues involving potential litigation, and again, I think the potential liability is too great. I also think our staff, if need-be, could keep it going throughout a temporary period.”
The community services director concurred while admitting the city might need to do damage control with the current vendors.
“So the answer is yes, with a tremendous amount of caution on the logistics, and also our political posturing,” he emphasized. “There’s going to be some upset people so there’s going to be an awful lot of silver tongue making sure they understand why we’re there and what we’re doing and that we want to make sure the Green Market moves on.”
When Commissioner Meier said he’d “heard through the grapevine” that someone from the city had gone down to speak to the vendors after March 15, Commissioner Becky Bruner admitted to the deed, armed with a flyer printed out by Mr. Chrulski. She ran into resistance among some vendors, however.
“I don’t know what happened with these ladies,” she said of a couple in particular. “I wasn’t able to tell them what they wanted to hear because of the Sunshine Law. Ninety percent of them were so nice to me, [but] it was just these two that were loud and saying you’re going to take it away from us and all that.”
After Commissioner McDonald declined to amend his motion for the longer notification period, Mr. Mortell provided more clarification on what the Board was about to do.
“Let’s be very clear,” the latter said. “What we’re doing tonight is not pointing the finger or declaring a breach in any party for any reason. Upon 60 days’ notice we can terminate, so we’re not making any accusations at all. This is simply a business decision the city’s making at this time to terminate without accusations at all.”
A few members of the public addressed the Commission on the issue, including Flamingo Avenue resident Helen McBride, who’d complained last summer that the market had begun to spill out of its former location in the City Hall parking lot to the surrounding streets with vendors selling everything from fried fish to neck massages.
“This group that’s been running it – I’ve said it before – left a bad taste in my mouth,” she said. “Let’s do 60 days, and thank you Becky for going down and talking to the vendors. Let them know it’s going to stay. But if we [city staff] have that 30 or 60 days, and Jim and his group [of] employees are willing to step in, that’s wonderful.”
Port St. Lucie resident Patricia Zielinski said via Zoom that she’d been helping out in her son’s booth at the market every Sunday for the last five years and debunked downtown resident Armand Pascual’s claim that the Stuart Green Market only benefitted the market itself and downtown restaurants and bars.
“I will tell you that rumors are flying at the Stuart Green Market, and yes, the vendors are scared because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I hope that you will continue to preserve the integrity of the Stuart Green Market because the vendors really want to serve the people of the city of Stuart.”
The Commission then voted unanimously to cancel Mr. Osburn’s contract and initiate the RFP process.