Former mayor will assume duties in midst of Center’s struggle with city
By Roger McCredie- At its regular meeting this week, the Board of Directors of Pack Place Education, Arts and Science Center is expected to confirm attorney and former mayor Charles Worley as a member of its board of directors.
Worley, who will be filling the vacancy created by the resignation of member David Brown, told the Tribune Monday that he will accept the board’s invitation, adding “I have a lot to learn. I haven’t kept up that much with what’s been happening.”
Worley will be seated on the board at a time when the future of Pack Place is in a state of flux.
In fact, Chairman Edward Hay’s nomination of Worley was one of only two actual pieces of business to emerge from the board’s April 9 meeting. The remainder of that meeting was dominated by discussion of and eventual decision to adopt a resolution to extend Pack Place’s existing lease arrangement with the city of Asheville until July 31, before stepping aside and allowing the city to become the landlord of the three Pack Place tenants – the Asheville Art Museum, Diana Wortham Theatre and Colburn Earth Sciences Museum.
Unless the board should decide to reverse itself, rescind its resolution and challenge the city’s takeover bid before the end of July, Worley will thus be joining a board that will be stripped of the purpose for which it was created in 1986 – to govern, as an autonomous body made up of representatives of its members, the affairs of its partners. Pack Place’s articles of incorporation describe its purpose as “to provide for and support a place for the coordination of educational, cultural and scientific activities for the benefit of the community.”
Pack Place’s present rental agreement with the city for the land on which the building stands – a ten-year, $10-a-year contract – expires May 31. This year, instead of simply allowing the lease to roll over, the city announced that it would no longer deal with the board; instead, it will enter into separate lease agreements, as full landlord, with each of the Pack Place building’s three tenants – the Asheville Art Museum, Diana Wortham Theater and Colburn Earth Sciences Museum. (The Asheville YMI, Pack Place’s fourth member, is housed in its own historic building a block away.)
The city claims its authority for doing this rests on a clause in the existing lease which states that the city may assume direct control of the Pack Place physical plant if the board should ever default on its obligation to maintain the premises in good repair. In January, City Manager Gary Jackson sent the board a letter claiming the board had in fact neglected to make approximately $800,000 worth of repairs and demanded advance reimbursement in that amount. Otherwise, Jackson said, the city would consider the board in default, exercise its right and summarily take over the operation of the building.
But at a special meeting between city officials and the board a few days later, architect and board member Barbara Field identified the city’s list of allegedly neglected “repairs” as a “wish list” of physical plant improvements she had drawn up and submitted for future reference months earlier. “You have stolen that [list] from me,” she angrily told Jackson, “and have attached it to a document you are using to blackmail Pack Place.”
Subsequently, Pack Place’s attorney, Mary Robinson, sent a letter to attorney Fred Barbour, who is acting for the city, calling Jackson’s claims “completely groundless” and stating the board would use every legal resource at its command to protect itself and its partner-tenants from the city’s power grab.
But at the board’s April meeting, city councilman Marc Hunt – who also sits on the Pack Place board as the city’s liaison – announced that council, in a closed session held the previous evening, had determined to pursue its default claims unless the board, then and there, adopted a resolution in effect asking the city for terms of surrender by requesting a 60-day extension of the existing lease to “tie up loose ends.” After that, Hunt said, the city would enter into separate lease agreements with each of the Pack Place tenants and assume the board’s duties as landlord. Hunt said the council had authorized him to make the demand and had also authorized Jackson, who was present, to approve such a resolution on the spot.
The board, after some token protesting, gave Hunt his resolution and the 60-day “stay of execution” is set to commence June 1.
Meanwhile, two city officials, speaking on condition of strict anonymity, told the Tribune that contrary to what he told the board, Hunt carried no authority from the city to make his demand that day. There had indeed been a closed session as Hunt described, they said, but for another purpose; no action was taken regarding Pack Place. (When asked by Robinson if he could produce a copy of a resolution by the city empowering him to make his demand, Hunt said his mandate was oral and Barbour said, “There is no resolution.” Two weeks later, Council retroactively adopted a resolution to make the Pack Place demand – after Hunt had already obtained the board’s capitulation.)
Hay has instructed Pack Place business manager Heather Nelson to begin addressing issues relating to the shutting down of Pack Place, including the termination of its ten-person staff; however, he has insisted that the board will soldier on and has seemingly left the door open to the possibility of attempting to renewing the present lease before the 60-day extension is up.
“It’s like a duck on a pond,” board treasurer Michael Andry said this week. “The duck appears to glide on the surface but underneath its feet are moving all the time. That’s what’s happening here.” At the February meeting, Andry openly challenged Jackson’s demands, invoking the board’s autonomy and saying, “All we’ve got to do is put our foot down.”
Colburn Museum board member Seth Woodall called the draft lease Colburn has received from the city “a combination eviction notice and death warrant.” The Colburn has already said it will be forced to leave Pack Place because it won’t be able to afford the additional expenses involved in having the city as a landlord, including having to pay its own utilities. Buncombe County has been picking up the utility tab for the Pack Place tenants, but says it will not “pay the city’s bills” if the city takes over.
Field, who called the city on its defaulted maintenance assertion, said her position is unchanged. “Marc Hunt should resign from the board,” she added. “There is a huge conflict of interest there.”
Worley, in anticipation of being elected to the Pack Place board, said, “I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.” He asked the Tribune for links to reports it has filed about the Pack Place controversy.