MENDOCINO Co., 12/09/16 — The entire Board of Directors of the Small Farmers Association (SFA), a cannabis farmer advocacy group, resigned last month over allegations that an employee, Julia Carrera, was “abusing the responsibility and power vested in her.”
In an open letter to members of the group, the board members stated that the Carrera disrupted SFA activities by misrepresenting the board’s position, denied board members contact with SFA members, took money out of the SFA’s accounts for personal use when not authorized to do so, handpicked new board members in violation of SFA’s bylaws, and that when board members or general members challenged her she would threaten them.
John Mark of Anderson Valley, a founding member of SFA and until recently a member of the board, provided The Mendocino Voice with a copy of the letter, and confirmed that the employee mentioned in the letter was indeed Carrera. He also elaborated on the allegations made in the letter against her.
“The board was fed up with creating this illusion that it was all smoothly run,” said Mark of the mass resignation. “Nobody wanted to fight about it, but we wanted to put out a notice for transparency. Most of us have dealt with it for a number of years and we wanted to put something out for the members to know. I’d like to think we did some good work, but it all fell apart and left a bad taste in my mouth.”
Carrera currently remains in the employ of the SFA, and provided a letter from the newly appointed board in response to the allegations (which is available in full at the bottom). She also owns “Julia Carrera and Associates,” a cannabis compliance business which offers discounts to SFA members. In early December, the SFA announced through their email list a new slate of board of directors: Del Potter, Julia Dakin, Lane Labbe, and Joe Fernandez. They also announced the hiring of a new lobbyist.
The SFA’s website states that SFA “evolved” out of the original Mendocino County 9.31 “zip-tie” program, for which Carrera served as an inspector. “Our missions is to ensure that Small Farmers have an integral role in the Medical Cannabis market now and in the future, while maintaining sustainable environmental practices,” states the site. The organization currently has over 650 members, according to promotional materials, and offers a certification program for cannabis farmers.
Mark said the conflict between board members and Carrera developed over the course of several months preceding the November election, and culminated in what he described as “a coup,” by Carrera, in which she cut off communication between the board and the membership, then selected replacement board members, and subsequently had them approved in an online election process that he says violated SFA’s bylaws. Two of the other board members who resigned were also founding members, and a third had served on the board for two years.
Mark explained that board members initially became frustrated when Carrera refused to publicize their official positions in support of Mendocino County’s Measure AF (the “Heritage Initiative”) and statewide Proposition 64 (Adult Use of Marijuana Act) because she did not agree with them. The SFA planned to issue a white paper in support of Measure AF, but, according to Mark, Carrera wanted to rewrite the paper to predict a negative outcome were AF to passed.
He added that she used the group’s social media presence to advocate positions “contrary to what the board had asked.” When board members complained, she subsequently cut off their access to SFA’s membership rolls and contacts and social media accounts, said Mark. And when conflict with board members occurred, Mark stated that Carrera would threaten them with retribution.
“We weren’t able to talk to the people that are our members, we had no way of getting information out,” he explained. When several board members resigned, he said Carrera selected temporary candidates to replace them. Mark said the organization’s bylaws allow for temporary replacements until the group’s annual meeting, but that when he attempted to contact the temporary candidates to interview them, he was told a new “steering committee” had been formed. He said he was then notified only a day or two before an online election to approve the candidates, for which Carrera tallied the votes, instead of at the annual meeting typically held in November.
Emails from the SFA over the last several months announce a search for board members in September, as well as a brief mention of a steering committee, followed by an announcement of new board members in early December. One email states three board member applications were received, and puts out a second call for applicants. Mark said he was told by one candidate that the “steering committee” had been independently formed because the board members “weren’t doing anything,” but he said board members were working on the Measure AF white paper.
A Dec. 8 letter from the new board states: “On December 2, 2016, the membership of the Small Farmers Association, (SFA), acting according to its bylaws, voted in a new board of directors. These actions were taken to ensure that the SFA continue to provide service and benefits to its membership, and is directly related to the lack of leadership of the previous board…It is with sadness we accept this public resignation of the previous board. We respect the work of John Mark as a founding board member. Your hard work and passion will not be forgotten.”
Referring to the letter from former board members, Carrera wrote in an email that “Rather than respond to specific points, I prefer to devote my time helping my clients and continuing to legally establish a healthy community/environment for us all to live in and enjoy…In the four years I have contracted for these services with the SFA, I have never received any indication or communication from the SFA Board or from it’s members that my work was in any way unsatisfactory or compromising.” She referred other organizational questions to the new board members. Julia Dakin decline to respond, and deferred to the other members.
One specific allegation made by Mark is that Carrera used the SFA’s money to secretly pay her mortgage, taking money from the group’s account beyond the amount allotted to her in salary. Mark explained that due to the remote and rural location of the organization’s members, and Carrera’s central location and position, she was authorized to access SFA bank accounts directly to pay her own salary. He claims that she violated this trust by withdrawing money nominally set aside for payment of state franchise board taxes for SFA’s incorporation, and used that money to pay her mortgage. He also noted that her contract was set to expire around the time of the SFA annual meeting, and that “some members were not into renewing it.”
Carrera has been a constant and key presence in the development of the cannabis policy in Mendocino County and beyond, meeting regularly with supervisors John McCowen and Tom Woodhouse, when they were on the county’s Marijuana Ad Hoc Committee, and speaking frequently at board of supervisors’ meetings. She has traveled the state speak on cannabis issues, made presentations to Sacramento regulators, and has been featured prominently in the Los Angeles Times.
While the main “about us” section on the SFA website does not explain what type of organization they are — whether non-profit or for-profit — the page listing their board of directors states that a board member must “…make decision for the non-profit educational business…” The SFA previously presented itself as a non-profit, however a search for non-profits with that name in California yields no results.
However, a search using the California Franchise Tax Board’s online status tool shows that the SFA’s status is currently suspended. The listing for the Small Farmers Association, at PO Box 1605 UKIAH, CA 95482, with entity ID number “3524877,” states that their status is “suspended” and lists them as not tax exempt. The California Secretary of State’s online status check also lists the Small Farmers Association’s status as “FTB suspended,” as recently as Dec. 6, 2016. SFA’s promotion materials describe them as an “educational organization.”
The Secretary of State’s website states that, “An organization cannot legally transact business, defend, or initiate an action in court, protest assessments, or file a claim for refund of paid amounts when we or SOS suspend it. It also loses the right to use its name.”
This situation seems to have remained essentially unchanged since reporter Adrian Fernandez Baumann reported on it in The Willits News in 2015. At that time, the SFA was suspended, and a state spokesman stated that it had been since 2014.
The SFA’s website currently lists its board members as: John Mark, Steve Merchant, Jeff Stewart, Josh Artman, and Patrick King. The list appears not to have been updated since the new board was appointed.
Mark explained that the remaining resigning board members wish to remain anonymous but that they wrote the letter to provide some transparency to the members of the organization, who they were unable to reach during their remaining months on the board.
Read the letters from the past board members and newly appointed board members below:
Dear SFA Members,
An employee of the association has been abusing the responsibility and power vested in her, through the board, by the members of the SFA.
With disregard for her contract and the bylaws upon which the SFA was founded, this employee has withheld the rolls and contact information of the SFA members from the board. Additionally, she has falsely represented herself as speaking for the SFA as a whole. Furthermore, she has taken money from SFA coffers without board approval for her own wages and ends. This has caused disruption in SFA activities, such as delaying payments to the state tax board for incorporation fees.
She has hand picked the people she would like to see sit on the board; established this selection without consultation with the sitting board members; and has set a yearly meeting date, again without consultation with the board. As per the Association’s Bylaws, new board members must be nominated and voted on at the open yearly meeting. Finally, she has established her own steering committee without board approval.
The members of the board who have represented, financed, and managed the activities of the SFA have no interest in continuing to fight for control of this organization. Therefore, we of the board have decided to resign our positions rather than engage in a legal battle for control of the SFA. We urge the membership of the SFA to look for information and representation from other local groups.
Thank you for your support over the years,
Sincerely, The SFA Board.
The following is the letter from the new board in response:
December 8, 2016
To: Bruce Anderson, Editor, Anderson Valley Advertiser
This letter is in response to the Open Letter posted December 6 th , 2016 in the Anderson Valley Advertiser. On December 2, 2016, the membership of the Small Farmers Association, (SFA), acting according to its bylaws, voted in a new board of directors. These actions were taken to ensure that the SFA continue to provide service and benefits to its membership, and is directly related to the lack of leadership of the previous board. The new SFA board has been constituted following the rules and bylaws of the Small Farmers Association, and under the guidance of the SFA’s legal representation. The Small Farmers Association will continue to serve small farmers with the utmost professionalism. The newly elected SFA board looks forward to establishing a stable and fruitful forward momentum for it’s members.
It is with sadness we accept this public resignation of the previous board. We respect the work of John Mark as a founding board member. Your hard work and passion will not be forgotten.
If you have any questions prior to our meeting, please direct them to Del Potter –
Del Potter Lane Labbe Julia Dakin Joe Fernandez
SFA Board SFA Board SFA Board SFA Board