By Don Schrack

The Packer

The future of the Fresno-based California Tomato Commission is in jeopardy.

In the wake of a lawsuit filed by a tomato grower-shipper, a decision by the commission's board of directors to downsize and to limit the commission's efforts to research, and an audit by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the state agency ordered a referendum that could result in dissolution of the commission.

The order for the referendum was distributed at a meeting of the commission's board of directors May 1. In addition to voting on whether to dissolve the commission, grower-shippers will vote on whether they should abandon plans to seek a federal marketing order. The June referendum is scheduled less than two years after grower-shippers voted to continue the commission for another five years.

On April 16, the Department of Food and Agriculture issued a cease and desist order which prohibits the tomato commission staff and board from spending any commission funds, make any commitment or sell any commission assets without prior written approval from the head of the state department's audit branch.

Though the board of directors continues to have meetings, the commission's Fresno office has closed, says Ken Manock, an attorney for the commission. He says Montford Management Services in Dinuba, Calif., has been retained to collect assessments and pay commission bills.