(May 12) The Vidalia Onion Committee, Vidalia, Ga., has hired its first compliance officer in at least five years.

William Braddy will spend at least three days a week meeting with growers and shippers in the 20-county Vidalia onion region. Committee executive director Wendy Brannen said Braddy will conduct visits, some unannounced, at onion packing sheds throughout the season to answer questions and audit shipping records to see if they conform to the handlers’ assessments to the committee.

The committee’s marketing and promotion efforts and staff salaries come from the 10-cent assessment on each 40-pound equivalent shipped.

“Most of our growers pay their assessments on time and properly, but it’s unfair for those who do pay on time to let one or two slide,” Brannen said.

The hiring comes in the wake of an embezzlement of more than $600,000 from the assessment fund by former committee director Tina Wheeler, who was sentenced to about two years earlier in detention earlier this year. Brannen said the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which approves marketing order budgets through the Agricultural Marketing Service, was concerned about the committee not having a compliance officer. Committee members shared that concern.

“The committee has gone through some unstable times in the past few years in which that position was vacant,” Brannen said.

Following Wheeler’s spring 2004 arrest, Jeffrey Hall took over the committee’s leadership, and focused his attention on rebuilding the Vidalia’s marketing campaign. When Hall took another job, Brannen assumed the role in June 2005. Again, she’s been busy working on marketing.

Brannen said it’s “virtually impossible” for the director to devote full attention to both marketing and compliance functions.