At the March 10 meeting of the Oak Park Farmers Market commission, attendees discussed the on-going absence of a market manager, expressed concern about staffing the on-line ordering and aggregation program, and discussed details of the upcoming season set to begin on May 22.

Laura Lencioni, commission chair, announced she would not be returning when her term expires. Though her term is set to conclude in March, she requested an extension through May to ensure she can remain in the position through opening day of the farmers market.

In the absence of a market manager, commissioners set boundaries related to their roles in operating the Oak Park Market during its 46th season. Minutes of the previous meeting were not approved because wording in the document suggested it would be the role of commissioners to train the new market manager. Commissioners indicated this would fall outside the role of a commissioner and they had never been asked to train a manager in the past.

“It makes it difficult for the commission to do its job without a market manager in place,” said Lencioni.

After searching unsuccessfully for a candidate within village hall, the village is actively looking externally for a person to fill the role.

“Besides this good commission, there’s nobody who wants this position filled more than me,” said Cameron Davis, assistant director of development customer services and staff liaison to the farmers market commission. “We are actively looking for an experienced market manager.

 Commissioner Rachel Hahs questioned why the market manager position was not listed as open and asked if it was a requirement for all public hiring to post all positions publicly.

“I really can’t speak to it, Rachel.” said Davis. “I am not certain about it. I could try to get an answer.”

Commissioners pressed for posting the job indicating doing so would make it easier to reach people who may be qualified but may not be familiar to organizers of the Oak Park market. 

Additionally, commissioners urged village staff to consider promoting past assistant managers into the role. Davis said he was unaware if past assistants have been asked if they have an interest in becoming the market manager. Davis was clear, “if for some reason the position isn’t filled” the responsibility of managing the market will likely fall to him. 

The job opening was not on the village website on March 10, but as of March 15 the market manager position as well as openings for assistant managers were posted on the site. Davis is listed as the point of contact on the vendor applications he sent to the farmers.

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A recommended ordinance passed at the village board meeting on Monday night made the market’s 2020 on-line pick-up pilot-program a permanent featured program of the 2021 Farmers Market season and established a per-order administration fee to help off-set administrative coasts.

The program will likely be run out of the nearby taxpayer bonded parking facility at OPRF. Utilizing the covered garage would reduce staff and volunteer requirements to execute the program. Commissioners, however, expressed concern in the March 10 meeting that there would not be enough staff and volunteers available to administer the time-consuming aggregation program. Commissioner Hahs and Robin Schirmer, former market assistant, each volunteered 300 hours to manage the pilot program during the modified  2020 season and will not be volunteering the same number of hours this year. Hahs said she “stepped up as a service to the community” and indicated she would not be volunteering at the same level in 2021. She expressed interest in having an assistant manager oversee the aggregation program.

Davis said the revelations called the future of the program into question and figuring out next steps would be an “important conversation to have.”

“If we are going to do something, we want to do it well,” said Lencioni. “We want the pick-up program to be a quality service and we need resources to do that.”

The village’s health department and Cara Pavlicek, village manager, have officially decided the market will return to the Pilgrim Church parking lot if qualifying factors are met.

Attendance limitations will be placed on the market at the start of the season to ensure proper social distancing with market staff counting shoppers as they enter and exit. The market will be required to operate in a one-way loop with a single point of entrance. The flow of the market has yet to be determined, but Davis anticipates the line to gain entry will wrap around the northeast corner of Lake and Scoville.

On a lighter note, live music is set to return the famers market, as well. Though wind and brass instruments will not be permitted at the market, all string instruments will be allowed.

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