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Bainbridge council takes close look at farmers market lease agreement

This past July, the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market surprised its usual visitors by allowing a corporate company to set up shop.

Representatives of Oral-B toothbrushes visited July 20 and sparked controversy and then conversation among Bainbridge city officials over the market’s lease agreement with the city.

The dustup continued at this week’s council meeting.

“Was a request made and then approved (by the city) or have we all become a little laxed?” Mayor Steve Bonkowski asked City Manager Doug Schulze at the opening of Wednesday’s discussion.

According to the terms and conditions of the contract, which has been automatically renewed since 2001 without revisions, the farmers market is to use the Town Square to hold a weekly market where local vendors can showcase produce and arts and crafts.

If market officials wish to use the leased premises for any other purpose, the agreement states, they must receive written consent from the city.

The corporation’s visit went without approval by the city, Schulze told Bonkowski.

Nor has the city received any requests from the farmers market as long as Schulze has been manager, he said.

Typically, market protocol does not permit non-local corporations to have a presence at its Saturday events. Market officials, however, decided to make an exception for Oral-B.

Following the visit to the farmers market, the company held a promotional event at Manual Road, located at the north end of the island. The company selected several cities throughout the nation that have streets named Manual Road or Manual Drive. The market visit was one stop during Oral-B’s trip to the island to film material for a new toothbrush commercial which encourages people to “power up” and switch from a regular toothbrush to a powered toothbrush.

But the company’s appearance at the Bainbridge farmers market led to complaints from other vendors and customers at the weekly event, who noted that the primary purpose of the market is to promote local goods and produce.

Councilwoman Debbi Lester made clear Wednesday that it was a misunderstanding. Officials now hope for more clarity on the lease agreement so the market and council will be better equipped to respond to unusual requests in the future.

When walking up to the market, visitors were approached by Oral-B associates and asked to participate in the commercial.

This prompted discussion on the dais on the difference between soliciting and campaigning, which is prohibited by the lease agreement.

Council members also discussed the idea of further defining “local” as it is used in the agreement.

Still, some remain upset over the Oral-B visit.

Eagle Harbor Inn owner Bonnie McBryan said she was disappointed at the portrayal of the lodging association during subsequent talk about the incident. She clarified that no one from the company nor its advertising agency lodged on the island, because there were no vacancies that weekend.

McBryan also offered some requests of the council for the future.

“When we look at tourism in the economy, I would just ask that we look at ways to spread the peak out and draw visitors to the island during a shoulder season,” she said.

“And that when we’re considering the impact of an event as small or potentially big as this, that we think twice about how it impacts our local businesses and whether it is really going to have the desired result,” she said.

The toothbrush tussle carried over into another item on the night’s council agenda.

The council suggested that the city look at examples — Seattle, for one — on how to manage filming and commercials on city-owned property.

Rex Oliver, president of the Bainbridge Chamber of Commerce, offered to help the city with any guidelines it could adopt.

The chamber was involved in orienting Oral-B to the island at the time of the company visit — a $2,500 donation was made to the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce and a $500 donation was given to the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market — and Oliver said he was not aware of the restraints on the market’s lease.

 

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