Friday, January 30, 2009

Avocado outrage

Here is a very compelling story coming out of California concerning yesterday's California Avocado Commission's annual meeting in Fallbrook.

Avocado growers express outrage
From the San Diego Union Tribune

Commission Chairman Rick Shade opened the annual meeting by apologizing to growers. Private security and San Diego County sheriff's deputies watched from the edges of the room because Shade said he had received death threats.

“I cannot tell you how embarrassed I am,” Shade told about 300 attendees. “I do have to take responsibility. There's nobody else; it was my job.”

Yet Shade said that after he was elected in 2007, he began asking former President Mark Affleck for information and paperwork, requests that went unaddressed.

He said Affleck ruled by intimidation and forged paperwork to make it appear he had board approval for some spending. Affleck disappeared for days at a time and made some commissioners file state Public Records Act letters for basic information, he said.

Affleck resigned May 15, the morning after he saw Shade reviewing expense reports at the commission's Irvine offices. He nows works at Saddleback Church in Orange County; he did not return messages left there yesterday.

The audit has been turned over to the California Department of Justice, which will decide whether to file criminal charges. The commission recovered some money from Affleck already, the chairman said, and is negotiating for more.

TK: The fate of the CAC could go anywhere from here. Some growers at the annual meeting reminded the audience that they have largely prospered in the 20 years since Affleck first ran the show.

More from the story:

Several large-scale growers and processors stood by commissioners, who serve two-year terms for no pay and little reward.

Bob Witt, who farms 800 acres of avocados and other fruits across San Diego County, reminded other growers that they were collecting just 10 cents a pound when Affleck took over two decades ago.

“You're getting 80, 90 cents, so please don't lose sight of that,” he said. “Before you hang all these people you're criticizing, you'd better take a look at that.”

The California Avocado Commission was created in 1978 to promote home-grown avocados worldwide. It is one of 56 quasi-governmental panels overseen by the state Department of Food and Agriculture to promote various products.

The department began auditing each commission in 2006. Questionable expenses have turned up in reports about several of the groups, including the California Tomato Commission, which was disbanded by growers last year in response.

TK: One DC lobbyist pointed that state commissions in California (and perhaps other states), unlike associations like PMA and United, aren't compelled to file IRS 990 forms. Those IRS 990 forms are available for review online and can be accessed by anyone. Increasing accountability and transparency is important if grower funded commissions expect to have grassroots support and a confident future.

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