BOISE -- The founder and executive director of Boise's Capital City Public Market has been fired, and board members say it's in part over accounting issues.
The board said the decision wasn't easy, but ultimately the majority of market vendors and members didn't agree with the way the business side of the market was being run under Karen Ellis.
"It's been a difficult past several months for the leadership here at the market and we've had to make some extremely difficult decisions," longtime board member and past president Kurtis Williams said. "It's difficult, but we really had to find another director that would be more pro-business and running the business the way the market needed to be run."
Board treasurer: 'Poor accounting' part of the problem
Specifically, board members including treasurer Heather Hall-Dudney, explained to KTVB that under Ellis's direction, they believe there was a lack of accounting. Some of the findings came when the Idaho Industrial Commission, which is the agency responsible for workers' compensation, began looking at records. Hall-Dudney says they found employees were being paid in cash, though no fines were assessed to Ellis or the market.
Additionally, Hall-Dudney says the market's taxes were late, some records had been found incomplete, and other problems like missing receipts had come up. The board says it realized some of that "poor accounting" when they had lawyers and accountants come in to help change the market's federal tax status to non-profit this year. The Industrial Commission's findings furthered the board's questions over finances and accounting.
"That also posed some, I would say, there wasn't good accounting information, so that just posed some questions. But in our mind, we don't feel there was any malicious intent, just poor accounting," Hall-Dudney said. "I think that we've taken the advice of our current accountant. We're certainly not going to have any late taxes filed… so I think it's learning from the past and making sure there's good checks and balances in place."
Market: Finances and books now in order
Hall-Dudney says the market's books are all in order now, and they are working with professional accountants to overhaul the accounting systems and record-keeping.
Williams described many of the problems as "growing pains" as the market grew and believes Ellis did not realize the importance of record-keeping. He says the lack of record-keeping at the market came up at board meetings, but Ellis claimed to have a handle on things.
"It just grew so fast and Karen as we've found out and as the years have gone by she has very, very poor business skills," Williams said. "She was the founder, she was generous, she played by her own rules. She lived large, she promoted, and she put on a great show, but she didn't keep records of it."
'We had to take control'
Board members say the decision to discontinue working with the market's founder was difficult, and they do not believe Ellis was malicious or doing anything illegal.
"Many of our families have grown up to depend on this market," Williams said. "We had to take control and make sure this thing's on solid business footing... to make sure it's around for many years to come."
The board also believes the future is bright, and things have already been internally fixed with business issues. Further, Hall-Dudney says the market probably appeared to be doing fine and believes the problems are likely a surprise to the public.
"We're a volunteer board. We come on Saturdays, run our own businesses, and it is such a great market and when you come and show up and see that the market runs so well on a Saturday, you just don't see that there's anything wrong with it," Hall-Dudney said.
Capital City Public Market plans to carry on Ellis tradition
Finally, the board says it owes Ellis a lot for founding the market and providing a vision for the market for 18 years.
"None of us would be here today if it wasn't for her. Perhaps that is what this made the decision the most difficult," Williams said.
According to the board, they plan to operate the market in such a way that customers and visitors will not notice a difference from the Saturday market tradition Ellis started.
"It'll be the same great market that she started," Hall-Dudney said. "We hope we can honor what she started and the vision that she created."
Former director responds to firing
Ellis responded to KTVB's request for comment via email. This is her statement in full:
"I am saddened that my career with the Market is ending on such a note. I am very proud of founding this market and watching it grow. It has truly become one of Boise's most iconic events as well a big economic factor to downtown Boise. Over the years I have worked with many boards of directors, all of whom I made full disclosure to and who approved the management practices. The market has grown consistently under my leadership and has been mutually beneficial to vendors, downtown businesses and the community alike. I continue to support the true mission of the Market and all who support that mission."