Overland Park is starting an exhaustive review of its farmers’ market following allegations of price-fixing.
City Manager John Nachbar has been directed by the City Council to investigate a variety of activities at the market.
He and his staff will look at allegations of vendors acting inappropriately, the source of produce sold as well as contract guidelines that once discouraged vendors to cut their prices.
“It is our intent to ensure the viability, family atmosphere and selection of local produce at this outstanding venue that customers have come to know and rely upon,” Mayor Carl Gerlach said in a statement.
The city’s announcement was the first time anyone has signaled that more is at play than just allegations of price-fixing. The market is run under contract with the city by the nonprofit Downtown Overland Park Partnership.
Partnership officials could not be reached for comment.
About a week ago, the mayor issued a statement distancing the city from market operations. He said Overland Park didn’t know about the price-fixing allegations until the city was notified by the attorney general on April 7 about the problem with the guidelines.
Overland Park spokesman Sean Reilly said said Tuesday that the city still is not responsible for market operations, but would ask those involved to cooperate with the review.
“There is a contractual responsibility and we are just trying to help resolve the issues,” Reilly said.
Controversy at the market bubbled up late last month when some vendors picketed a decision not to let them return this year.
The vendors have never been given an explanation, leading them to speculate that their ouster was related to their price-fixing claims against the downtown partnership.
Early last month, Kansas Attorney General Stephen Six became aware of a clause in the Farmers’ Market 2009 contract and determined that it violated Kansas restraint of trade laws.
The clause required prices that year “to be kept within a 50-cent range of the fair market price for that day.” The attorney general asked that it be removed from this year’s contract, and it’s since been taken out.
Councilman Dave Janson said the review is intended to sort out any public misperception about what’s transpired at the market. He said the City Council wants to know what the “story is.”