Monday, November 21st at 7PM the City Council will hold a public meeting to consider and vote on the “licensing agreement” with the Friends of Dornix Park. Many of us were asked to make a special effort to be at the previous meeting. We now know there wasn’t much need to be there. But at this next meeting, many of us will be more informed and have important questions and statements. Here is a list of SGCCI’s concerns with more details added than the advertisement in the Pioneer.
1) Most agreements involve consideration, or exchange of money or its equivalent. The only consideration in this license is that the Friends of Dornix Park drop the Drinkard, et al v. City of Big Timber lawsuit. What exactly does the City have to fear from this lawsuit? As we understand it, the suit is based on a procedural error. The Council passed a resolution without allowing public debate. However, there had been plenty of debate at other meetings. We wonder why the City Attorney did not advise the Council that they were about to make a procedural error and open the City to a potential lawsuit. It is hard to imagine a rational judge punishing the City by doing any more than forcing the City to retrace its steps.
Also, are there entities besides the Friends of Dornix Park who may have an interest in leasing or applying for a license to operate another sort of enterprise on the site? Has the City pursued this avenue? Could there be multiple agreements allowing a park and other ‘for profit’ activities?
2) The City’s liability is addressed very briefly and only by a hand-written note in the margin of the license agreement. We are told that this note means that the Friends of Dornix Park must maintain a liability insurance policy and not be without one for 60 days or the agreement will be void. But what are the exact terms? What is the liability policy supposed to cover? Section 5f seems to contradict the note. It says that the City Council is responsible for the operation and control of the park and its improvements. That sounds like serious liability to us.
3) Seven years is too long. We suggest a renewable 3 year term. This would put the renewal in an off year of the election cycle. A seven year license means that whatever the perspective of the City Council, they could do nothing about the agreement. And given our concern about ‘assignability’ mentioned in #5 below, we fear the City Council could lose control over the site and its operation.
4) Presently, the agreement can be modified by mutual consent of the City and Friends of Dornix Park. We feel any modifications should be subject to a public hearing. Right now, we have a City Council that usually makes sensible decisions with the interests of the citizens and taxpayers taken into account. That may not always be the case. As it is currently written, it appears that the Council and the Friends of Dornix Park could modify the agreement in any way they chose. Consequently, they could easily pull the rug out from under the taxpayers.
5) It appears that the agreement is ‘assignable.’ That is, the Friends of Dornix Park can assign their license to anyone they choose anytime they chose. Maybe we are misreading this section, but if we are correct, the Friends of Dornix Park could assign their license to any entity or person. It is not difficult to imagine what a mess might ensue were that to happen. We think the City Council, after a public hearing, should have to approve of any assignment to a party other than the Friends of Dornix Park.
6) Why a license and not a lease? There may be very good reasons, but we don’t know what they are. Is a license easier to revoke? Does it give the City more control? Is it advantageous to the City and taxpayers to obligate themselves to a license instead of a lease?
7) There are conflicting sections about the City’s rights and responsibilities. At best, these need clear explanation if not alteration. See #2 above.
8) Apparently, no consideration was given to other potential lessees or licensees. The actions of the City seem predicated on ending the lawsuit and did not allow others to offer alternative uses for the site. We wonder if this does not open the City to another lawsuit. It is not hard to imagine lawyers running the City, bankrupting the local treasury by fending off lawsuits. If another group decides to sue the City, will they get an exclusive license agreement, too?
9) The parties to the lawsuit against the City include family relations of one of the City Council members. We believe this is completely innocent, but suggest that City Council member not vote on the Agreement. It looks bad. It may also expose the City to yet another lawsuit claiming conflict of interest .
Using the site as a Park makes sense. It might be used for that and more and actually produce some modest income for the City. We don’t think the agreement is a bad idea or unworkable, yet we have some objections, a few suggestions and a number of questions. There is no doubt that the City Council members felt that they have acted in the best way possible to resolve the issues around Dornix Park. We appreciate their work. But we think it needs some changes.
SGCCI does not have a lawyer on staff , nor have we been involved with the negotiations and our grasp of the legal terms is limited. However, we think the citizens of Big Timber and Sweet Grass County should think long and hard about this agreement. It is born of a lawsuit, and we think its parents should be closely scrutinized. Your comments are welcome. You may use the comment option on the Blog Site or email SGCCI.firstname.lastname@example.org