The Grand Island Farms Cooperative held its monthly meeting on July 27, 2016. Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray accepted our invitation to attend the meeting and address the group. Town Board member Mike Madigan, who grew up on a farm, expressed interest in attending our meeting, and as an open and inclusive group, we encouraged him and the rest of the Town Board to attend. To our great disappointment, the Supervisor did not attend our meeting after Mr. Madigan confirmed he would attend.
Kelly Petrie from Grand Island News came to the meeting and brought copies of a poster and application form promoting a town-sponsored farmers market to be held weekly at the Town Commons at the Town Hall. The 8-page application form required each participating farm to buy a $5 million insurance policy to indemnify the Town. In comparison, the Town only requires our friend Corey McGowan to have a $1 million per occurrence $2 million aggregate insurance policy when he serves beer at the Town Commons. No other farmers market in the area requires a $5 million indemnification policy from each vendor. The insurance policy would have cost each farm several hundred dollars to sell their fruits, vegetables, eggs and honey at the Town’s farmers market. Co-op members denounced the Town-sponsored market, threw the posters and applications in the trash, and vowed to continue with our own market that launched right after last month’s July 4th parade.
After the meeting, the Supervisor called our attorney to complain that he had been ridiculed at the meeting he did not attend. Our attorney assured him that the only ridicule at the meeting was directed solely at the Town’s farmers market application form and its absurd insurance requirement.
The next morning, the Supervisor’s secretary sent our attorney the following email from her Town email account:
From: Cyndy Montana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: July 28, 2016 8:50:37 AM EDT
Cc: Nate McMurray <email@example.com>
Subject: Ag Coop
I hear you and a few others are working against me and Nate on the Farmer’s Market. I am absolutely sickened by that.
After all Nate has done to help you and everyone in that group? He has given more time to you and Ag Districts than almost anything else in these first 6 months. We are still trying to figure things out as we go along and maybe there have been a few missteps, but ultimately we both are in full support of the Ag Districts and helping farmers on the Island. For God’s sake, I am a Farmer’s daughter. You have asked for an Ag Board instead of an Ag Committee and he is trying to figure out how to make that happen. What have we done to create such spite in you?
Keith, you are here all the time. If you thought the application for the Farmer’s Market needed some work why wouldn’t you say something? I had a very simple application ready to go back in May and then the Town Board (one or two members specifically), put a stop to it and told me to consult lawyers and the insurance company. I did so, and of course it got a lot more intimidating. I say right on the application that I am more than willing to help with anything that someone is unfamiliar with. AND we can waive a lot of it anyway. It just has to be there to cover our butts.
Keith, you have helped Nate in many ways – thank you. But he has also bent over backwards for you. Many times. And I have coached you on better ways to get your information in front of Nate. For you to lead your group to not support the Town Farmer’s Market that is being put in place to help YOU and ALL of them is disgusting and downright juvenile. I am doing all this work solely to support you and everyone in that Coop!!
Obviously your group isn’t grateful for everything we have done for you. I am deeply saddened by that. I will still support you moving forward when I think it is in the best interest of Grand Island, but believe me I have lost a ton of respect for you and the few who are acting this way. We could be so much stronger if we worked together instead of against each other. How can you call yourselves a cooperative?
Assistant to the Supervisor
Town of Grand Island
716-773-9600 x 658
716-775-1831 (personal cel)
We publicly respond:
Dear Mrs. Montana:
The family-farm members of the Grand Island Farms Cooperative were shocked by your email dated July 28, 2016. Some have suggested that your email was so outrageous, it does not warrant a reply. However, to not reply might incorrectly imply that we accede to your comments, and nothing could be farther from the truth. We wish to make the following points in response:
- You sent your email from your Town employee email account on Town employee time. If you have a personal axe to grind, you should do so on your own time and not at taxpayer expense. A disturbing pattern has emerged where you find it acceptable to fight online with Grand Island taxpayers, for example, arguing with a resident on the Town’s Facebook page. Such conduct is inherently wrong and unbecoming a Town employee.
- You said, “I hear you and a few others are working against me and Nate.” That is called hearsay. As the secretary to the Supervisor, who is an attorney, you should know that hearsay is inherently unreliable, which is why it is inadmissible in all courts. You and the Supervisor could have attended our recent meeting and heard what was said firsthand, but chose not to. You could have consulted with Town Board member Michael Madigan who attended the meeting, but chose not to. Instead, you chose to base your entire outburst on inaccurate hearsay rather than fact.
- You said, “If you thought the application for the Farmer’s Market needed some work why wouldn’t you say something?” Because you NEVER consulted with us on it. You NEVER gave us a copy of your application form before our meeting, so we were unable to provide feedback to you before you went ahead on your own to print and distribute it. You gave the application forms to Kelly Petrie from Grand Island News to deliver to us for the first time at our meeting. The fact that no one — not a single farm on Grand Island and no vendor from off Grand Island — has so far applied to participate in your farmers market is testament to how defective and unrealistic that plan is.
- You said, “I had a very simple application ready to go back in May and then the Town Board (one or two members specifically), put a stop to it.” If one or two Town Board members were allegedly against using a simple application form for the farmers market, that means a majority of three or four Board members were in favor of it. Despite having a majority of Town Board members in your favor, you somehow managed to fumble closing the deal to use your “very simple application” form.
- You said, “For you to lead your group to not support the Town Farmer’s Market that is being put in place to help YOU and ALL of them is disgusting and downright juvenile.” We fully support a Town-sponsored farmers market, which would be eligible to receive state grants that would directly benefit Grand Island family farms. However it was you who intentionally excluded us from the entire process. For example, before you met with the owner of McMahon’s restaurant on Grand Island Boulevard about holding a Town farmers market there, we called you to collaborate in attending that meeting. You asked us to NOT come. You chose to not personally deliver your farmers market applications forms directly to us at our recent meeting, and receive comments about it. You NEVER even asked the Grand Island family farms you hoped would vend at your market what day and time they preferred, and instead imposed your choice on them. Such conduct is arguably disgusting and downright juvenile.
- You said, “I am doing all this work solely to support you and everyone in that Coop!!” As the old saying goes, “with friends like that, who needs enemies.” If supporting us means drafting Town policy that forces Grand Island’s family farms to sell off-Island because they cannot afford the insurance premium to sell on Town property, then please do not help us. Also, there is a difference between a coop and a co-op. A coop is where poultry is kept. A co-op is a cooperative mutual aid farming association. We are the latter.
- You said, “Obviously your group isn’t grateful for everything we have done for you.” First, we are always grateful for any legitimate help that benefits Grand Island’s family farms. You are correct that we are not grateful for your vision of a Town farmers market where small family farms must pay hundreds of dollars each year for insurance to seasonally sell some tomatoes. Second, agricultural districts are a county-adopted state-certified program. They have little to do with Town policy unless the Town restricts agricultural activity in violation of state law . The NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets program manager for agricultural districts, along with his legal staff, bent over backwards to help Grand Island’s family farms. They were the ones who persistently spoke with the county’s attorneys, planning department, legislators, and to our Town Supervisor, to help include Grand Island’s farms in an agricultural district. It is unfair to in any way diminish or marginalize their unwavering support for us, or take credit for it.
- You said, “I will still support you moving forward when I think it is in the best interest of Grand Island, but believe me I have lost a ton of respect for you and the few who are acting this way.” You are a Town employee and public servant. You serve us, we do not serve you. Your job description does not give you discretion to choose any small business to help or hurt. We cannot imagine that public servants in your native Canada hold such arrogant disdain for taxpayers. Your conduct here is not acceptable, and we have “lost a ton of respect for you.”
- You said, “We could be so much stronger if we worked together instead of against each other.” We agree that it would be more effective to work together. That is precisely why we invited the Supervisor and Town Board members to our recent meeting. It is outrageous that you, as a Town employee, now admit to or suggest working against us.
- You said, “How can you call yourselves a cooperative?” Because we cooperate with one another. We do exactly what you don’t do — we collaborate with Town, County, and state employees to directly benefit Grand Island farm enterprises, who in turn benefit this community.
Grand Island Farms Cooperative
From: Tom Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: July 28, 2016 11:27:05 AM EDT
I am glad Ms. Montana has finally decided to call us out on all the help she has shown us such as putting us in the parking lot of McMahons restaurant . What a great effort . And us showing nothing but disrespect to her and her request for 8 pages of paper work. When was the part about having Doug Learman inspect the booths. I guess Nates handler has it in for us now. Sorry for the disrespect Ms. Montana. Well done once again all ways working for the people.
From: Sheila Daminski <email@example.com>
Date: July 28, 2016 11:59:43 AM EDT
Wow. That was just a horrible attempt at professional communication. I cannot believe she would put that crap in WRITING! So apparently Mike, who seemed quite in agreement with us last night, went back and told quite the tale. Good to know….not one of them can be trusted. Very disappointing. Mike was actually the one that suggested that both the Ag council AND the Farmers Market would be better handled by us!
NateMcmurray: Obviously Cyndy got her feelings hurt–as did I. But she is an independent actor. I did not write that letter. But Ill work it out. Please understand. 9:14 AM 28 July 2016
NateMcmurray: You are right. I over reacted. But I did not agitate Cyndy. She was already agitated when I spoke to her this morning. 11:59 AM 28 July 2016