The ban on Democratic and Republican booths at the Chestertown Farmers’ Market is now permanent after the Chestertown Council voted unanimously Tuesday to support the decision of the market’s manager, Julie King, to remove politics from the market.
“I have to do what’s best for the mission of the Farmers’ Market which is focusing on the local food system,” King said at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, which was livecast on Zoom. “I’ve said from the beginning that I never thought it was a good idea…for the Farmers’ Market to become this political arena. I think there’s other places for that, especially when both of their headquarters are less than a block from the market. I can’t be making political decisions on behalf of the Farmers’ Market.”
King said the presence of the political booths have had an adverse effect on other vendors and customers.
“I know a lot of people that go to the Farmer’s Market who’ve told me they prefer no political parties be present at the market,” she said.
King expelled the Republicans on August 22 after she approached workers at the GOP booth for not wearing masks as required by market rules and Gov. Larry Hogan’s most recent executive order requiring face coverings in public places when social distancing cannot be maintained. She said she expelled the GOP booth when workers began yelling at her.
King said there has been an ongoing battle to keep things civil between the Democratic and Republican Committees manning booths at the market. The two committees are often jabbing elbows for prime locations at the market on Saturday mornings, King said. She said it was just best to ban political parties altogether.
Ward 2 Councilman Tom Herz and Ward 1 Councilman David Foster gave praise to King’s job performance but still challenged the permanence of King’s decision.
“I absolutely support your decision to oust them from the market on that day and even to enforce a ban on the Republicans for some amount of time,” Herz said. “But I don’t understand how that translates into banning all community groups or all political organizations”
“We’ve given you provisional rules to handle these sorts of situations, but to sort of blanket eject all political organizations…predicated on one group’s offense just seems to me a bit much. It seemed like a step too far for me.”
Foster said there was the appearance of a lack of fairness in King’s decision.
“I don’t see how we can meet the appearance of fairness if we’re punishing the Democrats for actions of the Republicans,” Foster said. “I just don’t see how we can have the public feel that we’re being fair to all sides.”
King said letting only the Democrats back in would still give the appearance of unfairness.
“I thought I was being fair by banning both political parties and not showing favoritism to one or the other,” King said, responding to Foster.
Foster asked King if she would remain market manager if the political booths were allowed back in — and she affirmatively said “no” to the idea.
“No, I’m not managing political parties,” she said. “It’s not my job as market manager and I think that is asking too much of me.”
Herz said King should be given time to revise the rules that would allow the political parties back to the market but King flatly rejected Herz request.
“I’m not revising the rules,” she replied to Herz. “I spent the whole month of January revising them. If you look at nonprofits it states that preference will be given to nonprofit groups that have environmental causes. So I don’t really want to do that…I don’t feel comfortable revising them.”
Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver also objected to Herz’s idea of revising the rules and said the Council should support King’s decision.
“I believe we should stand with Julia in her decision,” He said. “She’s the one that’s there every Saturday and has to deal with this and has to manage the traffic. She’s made a decision and I think we should stick with that.”
The Council voted in support of King and to accommodate the two political parties on the sidewalk outside of the market’s boundaries and the market manager’s jurisdiction.
King said she had no problem moving the two booths somewhere offsite.