It's an irony lost on no one in the warring parties of the Pike Place Market: Shelly Yapp, the controversial longtime head of the Market, has resigned and departed. But Millie Padua, the woman Yapp fired and drove out for alleged theft, is back—albeit in a new role.
It will be a year next month since Yapp, executive director of the Market's Preservation and Development Agency (PDA), claimed Padua had been pocketing day-stall rental cash and sent the popular Market Master packing. An audit by an outside CPA firm, Branch, Richards & Co., detailed how as much as $300,000 had been looted since 1992 and fingered Padua.
Her supporters noted the Master was one of many who oversaw cash receipts and that Yapp herself had been warned in 1993 by the Market's regular auditing firm, Francis & Co., that the PDA should "develop policies and procedures to cover all aspects of cash management" including "safekeeping procedures."
When Yapp quit this summer for a lower-profile job as Seattle Center development director, she said it was as an opportunity too good to pass up. But spillover from the messy Padua case may have been her undoing as well, tainting her 10-year reign. Now events have come full paradoxical circle with the ex-Master's return to a new part-time job at a Market retail card shop.
Padua has denied the theft claim and says she can't talk about possible action by the King County Prosecutor's Office, which has yet to announce whether or not it will prosecute. Insiders say that despite the PDA's expensive new computer system, the handling of daily receipts from farmers and crafts stalls was remarkably casual in recent years. Cash was counted and recorded by hand, then put in a desk drawer in an office sometimes left unlocked. Even the audit showed Padua was not the only person with access to it.
For sure, the allegations guaranteed the 92-year-old Market—politically, a soap opera of oft-feuding farmers, merchants, residents, craftspeople, and the PDA—would remain in dramatic conflict, with the added attraction of a free-for-all over Yapp's successor.
Insiders say a former Darigold Farms executive has now emerged as front-runner to head up the PDA, causing some opponents to unsheathe the long knives. "Who has done more damage to the independent farmer's Market than the corporate farming companies?" asks one. Others suggest having a farmer of any stripe would be an improvement over the deceptively corporate Yapp, who also held jobs as a UW regent and stadium construction board member.
Then there is the battle of the CPAs: The PDA has told other Market groups it will drop Francis & Co. in favor of Branch, Richards, the firm that detected the alleged cash thefts. But some market coalitions are resisting that move and, says one official expressing a pro-Millie sentiment, may take the PDA to court over it. The larger issue is who really runs the market. The Market Constituency and the Day Stall Tenants Association, who represent small farmers, crafts workers, and market supporters, have long contended they have power to veto PDA decisions, based on the Market charter. "The City Council won't take sides," says an official. "It just may take a lawsuit to finally see who has the power." Need we say to be continued?