Downtown Boise public market: a founder's awkward ouster

A draft of our lead editorial for Friday:

Were it not for Karen Ellis, vendors wouldn’t even have a Capital City Public Market.

Ellis founded the Downtown market nearly 20 years ago. Ellis been the market’s only executive director, long working with little oversight from a board of directors. She has been a staff of one, presiding over a market that brings together some 180 vendors and thousands of Saturday morning Boise browsers.

The market isn’t just a place for vendors to sell local or organic products. It is a part of the Downtown landscape, and for its devotees, it is a part of the weekly rhythm of life in Boise. All this started with Ellis.

On Tuesday, Ellis’ tenure came to an abrupt, ugly end, when the market’s board of directors fired her.

Ellis’ critics weren’t shy about airing their grievances in public: sloppy record-keeping, failing to pay taxes on several employees, confusing and cumbersome rules, preferential treatment that provided some preferred vendors prime locations.

This is just one side of the story, and following her ouster, Ellis declined comment on specific allegations of mismanagement. The Idaho Industrial Commission investigated the worker’s compensation aspect of the tax issue and levied no fines against the market.

What emerges through all of this is a storyline that isn’t unique to one public market. Often it takes an entrepreneur to envision and launch an enterprise. Often it takes an administrator, a detail-oriented thinker, to run a maturing enterprise.

This week, and in a very public and awkward manner, the market’s board began the search for just such an administrator. In the process, the fact that Ellis launched the market became an aside.

“She’s a great visionary, and that’s why the market started and became what it became,” board member Kurtis Williams told the Statesman. “But, essentially, we needed a better business person, a business manager ... and she just couldn’t perform that duty.”

Perhaps, indeed, a manager is what the market needs. Meanwhile, what Ellis deserves is a round of thanks.

Can we say EGO?

I have had personal experiences with both Karen and members of the Market board over a period of several years. And while although I was not really ever much of a fan of Karen's treatment of others, I do think it is questionable as to how all this went down. First of all, if the board felt this way toward Ms. Ellis and the accusations were true, then deal with it in private...period. For the board to make this whole situation such a public affair leads me to two different conclusions. Either (1), they attempted to oust her in private, and she refused to resign or (2) there is an issue of egos here, and some individuals in need of attention to feel more important in their roles on a volunteer board. I side more with the latter because alot of these volunteer boards are similar to that of a Homeowner's Assn or Industry board where people take their titles way too seriously and think they are more important than they really are. EGO. I think there may have been ego on both sides of this issue, however I think it is demeaning, unprofessional and unethical for them to address this through the media.


for closing my main route through downtown every decent Saturday!

I hate the Saturday market because of their their righteousness to close city streets. It screws up traffic in that area without a doubt.

Do it somewhere else where it doesn't clog up the flow.

It's STATED purpose is to promote marketing for small-scale and specialty crop growers.

There are a lot of non crop vendors blocking the public street!


... Pimp2, what an appropriate name. If you don't like the traffic on ONE morning a WEEK for EIGHT months of the year, why don't you give us all a break and move to Weiser or Bliss?

U Haul

That is 32 weeks of 52. More than half the time. If you lived in a downtown condo and needed to travel West on Idaho St you might feel the same.

Different route?
Bannock is jammed up at 8th due to the market and ACHD's inability to clear traffic in an intersection. So I have to travel well out of my way every Saturday morning to go help feed the starving children at my church's mission.

If you don't like the traffic?
How about if the Market accepts the same idea? If you market visitors don't like waiting for the pedestrian light, give me a break and go to the Meridian Market instead.

Let's apply the same idea to other events.
Close the road every Wednesday for AAF. And all week long for the Festival of Trees, and then every other event on the Grove, too.

Is it really that hard to find another route?

I think the market brings a lot of flavor to downtown and find the street closure to be only mildly inconvenient. It's pretty easy to find another route.

That's right Kev....

ignore the FACT she did not pay taxes due the State. You know Kev, the taxes that keep our schools, roads, fire and police operating. People go to jail for that. Never mind there is a county commissioner you harrassed for years for not paying sales taxes he owed the State. Hypocrite.


Let's look at the editorial again. "The Idaho Industrial Commission investigated the worker’s compensation aspect of the tax issue and levied no fines against the market." It's the commission's job to look into such matters. The fact that the commission levied no fines would seem to say a lot about its findings.

If you have factual information to the contrary, I urge you to contact Sven Berg, the reporter who is covering this story.

Kevin Richert
editorial page editor

Did she or did she not.....

pay taxes due the State? Berg quoted several market board members who said they have no idea what the finanical condition the Market is in. They don't know how much was brought in or what the expenses were.
The fact the IIC didn't levy fines indicates there are alot of unanswered questions. Maybe instead of defending her your paper can ask the hard questions. Hypocrite.