Amid “management and financial deficiencies” that a new report found at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, the market’s director Jeff Themm announced Thursday he plans to retire this summer, though he insists his departure is unrelated.
“I’m 65 and I’m eligible to retire,” Themm told The City Paper following a one-hour special farmers’ market board meeting to discuss the facility’s operational woes. “I’m looking forward to spending time with my seven grandsons.”
Themm, director of the Metro-owned market for the past seven-plus years, said he first mentioned the retirement possibility to Metro officials in February. “No,” he said when asked if findings in Metro’s audit played a factor in his decision.
Themm’s retirement, effective June 30, comes as the Metro Finance Department released a 55-page “special review” Thursday that inspected the farmers’ market’s operations and finances from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2011. The two-year review, which found deficiencies “have been ongoing for several years now,” followed an earlier preliminary report that tipped Mayor Karl Dean’s administration to concerns.
The study, which some farmers’ market board members hadn’t read until Thursday’s meetings, highlights eight major findings. Among them are “weaknesses and inconsistencies” in lease agreements with the market’s restaurant tenants. The market has under-billed some tenants and over-billed others.
Farmers’ market management has also failed to “establish and maintain a cost allocation plan to adequately track, monitor and allocate full cost of its operations,” the review found. “Management did not monitor its costs of operations and thereby failed to adjust and distribute shared costs to vendors equitably.”
“We now have a starting point,” Tana Comer, chair of the farmers’ market board, said of the review, adding that it provides “direction” on how the board can correct problems.
“He worked as hard as he could, doing as well as he could,” Comer said of the departing Themm. “Maybe some accounting and time-management standards weren’t followed as closely as we would have liked, but that was his call.”
Comer said the mayor’s office would lead the search for an interim farmers’ market director. The board plans to establish a job description, set a salary and lead a national search for a full-time director.
“We’ll try to get the most dynamic person we can with the most experience into the market,” Comer said. She called the facility’s potential “tremendous.”
The board adjourned Thursday without taking any votes on policy changes that are recommended in the report. Board members are set to reconvene again next week. The board plans to divide into subcommittees to study different areas of the report.
Jim Fyke, of the finance department, said Metro would offer resources to assist the farmers’ market as its board searches for a replacement. A timetable to issue a request for qualifications in search of candidates to replace Themm isn’t finalized.
Fyke said the mayor is “absolutely committed” to getting the farmers’ market back “on its feet.”
“There’s no question that this administration and this mayor wants to do whatever it’s going to take –– hiring, transition, support,” he said.
|Farmers Market Report Final.pdf||1.08 MB|