…..Two weeks after insisting he didn’t need one.
By Roger McCredie- Asheville City Council last week passed and sent to the Pack Place Board of Directors a formal resolution extending its present lease with the city for 60 days “to tie up loose ends” before dissolving its authority over its own tenants.
The resolution rubber-stamps a move made by Vice Mayor Marc Hunt two weeks ago, when he told the Pack Place board repeatedly that he had all the authority he needed to demand a yea-or-nay vote, then and there, on the extension offer from the board. (See “Pack Place Showdown full of mixed signals from city,” April 24.)
Such a demand, reflecting the will of city council, would ordinarily come through channels, in writing, as a letter or resolution. At the April 9 meeting, however, Hunt said that Council had met in closed session the previous evening and informally “agreed” to request a vote from Pack Place asking for the extension, with the understanding that at the end of it, Pack Place would cease all its landlord functions over the Asheville Art Museum, Diana Wortham Theatre and the Colburn Earth Sciences Museum.
Since that time, however, two sources directly involved have indicated to the Tribune that although Council did go into closed session on the night of April 8, it was for the purpose of discussing the city’s lawsuit with the Metropolitan Sewerage District over control of Asheville’s water supply, and had nothing to do with Pack Place. Nor, the sources said, was the subject of Pack Place introduced during the closed meeting.
Yet in a videotape recording of the Pack Place board meeting the following day, Hunt repeatedly referred to the authority vested in him by Council to demand a vote on the 60-day lease extension, adding that city manager Gary Jackson, who was present, was authorized and prepared to sign off on the deal. (A “yes” vote would in effect mean the Pack Place board would phase itself out by July 31; a “no” would have meant that Pack Place intended to force the issue by trying to renew its existing lease. Hunt made it plain that a “no” vote would result in Pack Place’s being deemed in default to the city for failure to make alleged repairs and maintenance set forth in a January letter from Jackson.)
The tape, made by attendee Jerry Rice, shows Hunt, at 19:18 minutes in, telling Pack Place’s attorney, Mary Robinson, that Council approved offering the 60-day extension “in a closed session last night.”
At point 27:10, Hunt again refers to “ … the council discussion last night” and says the city is offering the extension provided Pack Place drops the idea of seeking to renew its existing lease. “That would contradict the city’s action last night … Gary [Jackson] would not be authorized to sign an extension” if Pack Place should attempt a renewal, Hunt says. Hunt also says the city will not charge rent to the Pack Place tenants until next January, provided Pack Place does not seek renewal.
At 40:05, Hunt replies to a query from board chairman Edward Hay as to whether the city would accept an immediate vote on the extension but still allow Pack Place to seek to have its current lease extended “at the appropriate time.” Hunt says, “I’d like to ask [special city atty] Fred [Barbour] if that would negate what the city resolution last night was.” (Hunt’s use of the term “resolution” seemed to run counter to his previous statement that the council’s alleged action was informal.)
“It probably does,” Barbour replies.
At 40:27, Hay asks, “So you don’t want us voting on this [the present lease renewal] at all today?”
“It’s not what I want, it’s what we decided last night,” Hunt replies.
At 41:27, Robinson asks Hunt, “Do you have a copy of the resolution from last night?”
“There was not a resolution,” Barbour replies. “In closed session, the City Manager was given the authority to pursue this … it is not a resolution.”
“We need to proceed in a legal way,” board member David Brown is heard to say.
Most of the remainder of the tape records wrangling among Pack Place board members over the form and content of a motion to accept the extension, At one point Hay says he is “a little put off by the city’s reluctance to see us exercise our right to renew the [existing] lease. I feel very uncomfortable with that.”
But Hunt is heard rattling the “default” saber and saying, “The reasons for issuing [Jackson’s] letter still stand.” He later adds, “The city is not eager to see this go to litigation … We don’t want to evict anyone.” (Throughout the tape, Hunt speaks as a city councilman; he does not refer to his companion position as a member of the Pack Place board.) As the tape ends, the board eventually gives the city what the city wants – a resolution accepting the city’s lease extension, essentially giving itself 60 more days in which to hand over its authority to the city – without further challenge to Hunt’s demands or his authority to make them, and without insisting on seeing any document confirming the city’s position.
Nevertheless, Pack Place’s capitulation became enshrined in a formal resolution published in the consent agenda for city council’s April 22 meeting: “Whereas, on April 9, 2014, the Pack Place Board passed a resolution to extend the lease with the city by 60 days, and the motion to renew the lease under the existing terms was withdrawn … “ The city then put its seal on this public version of what had happened, recording it for posterity.
Both observers and participants have pondered in print why the city has so aggressively pursued a course of action that would gut the authority of a 22-year-old administrative nonprofit, deprive its ten-person staff of its jobs and place an additional financial burden on the city and, by extension, its taxpayers.
As for the Pack Place board, it has given no indication as to whether it might use its two-month breather to prepare a lawsuit against the city.
View the entire videotape of the April 9 Pack Place Board meeting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujrIdc-QQi0&feature=player_embedded