By Leo Coughlin
The matter of who runs the coffee shop at the Largo Library has taken up an appreciable amount of time of the City Commission over the past three successive weeks and all the palaver illustrates how a small group of people can get bogged down in irrelevancies borne out of emotional arguments.
Also, it shows how penny wise can definitely be pound foolish.
First, the issue.
A woman named Dalal Mansour secured the lease to run the coffee shop in 2007, operating under the corporate name of Bookmark Café of Largo, Inc. The corporation was chartered in 2007 and appears to have been formed for the sole purpose of running the coffee shop. The corporate address is the library's address.
Mansour succeeded as the leaseholder to a corporation with almost an identical name - Bookmark Café, LLC. Its principals were Howard Ritchie and S. Michael Crivello.
At the time Ritchie was the boyfriend of Pat Burke, a former member of the Largo City Commission, and he came into the picture when Burke approached Henry Schubert, a Largo assistant city manager in 2005, before the new library opened, with the information that her boyfriend and his friend were interested in running the coffee shop.
The shop wound up in Ritchie's and Crivello's hands. No Request for Proposal seeking bids was issued by the city in 2005.
Part of the five-year agreement in which Mansour is the successor provided for a notification period of 270 days prior to the expiration of the agreement of an intent to renew the agreement which by its own terms stipulated that it could be renewed for another five years.
Expiration of the contract is June 23, 2010. To merely extend the contract, all Mansour had to do was inform the city of her intent to do so. Her 270-day notification period to do this was September 23, 2009.
On October 7, 2009, Schubert wrote Mansour a letter that contained these two sentences
"We have not received written notice of your intent to renew and the 270 day notification deadline has passed. Therefore, is it correct for me to assume that you do not wish to renew the agreement with the city?"
Mansour has said that she received the letter on October 13 and immediately responded through a CPA firm, indicating that she wanted to extend the agreement.
The city's response was to inform her that because the notification deadline had passed the city would proceed with an RFP. Schubert brought that to the City Commission on March 2.
The commission, on emotional grounds, rejected that and the subject was before the commission again on March 9 at which time it seemed that a one-year "try out" agreement would be done.
This was ostensibly because of complaints received about the coffee shop. These were counterbalanced by statements supporting Mansour.
Last week, Commissioner Mary Black, who had become Mansour's advocate, it seems, pushed for the idea of the contract being renewed for five years. She said this was the only appropriate thing to do and claimed that although Mansour had "breached" the contract she cured her failure on notification within the time allowed under the contract's terms.
The trouble is, Mansour's failure to give timely notice to renew was not a breach but actually an option that benefited her.
On that basis the commission last week decided to go out for an RFP (in which Mansour can submit a bid). Opposing that were Black, Bob Murray and Woody Brown, all relying on an emotional basis, apparently.
Outcries from citizenry criticizing the city are unfair and unfounded. Even if certain parties in the city have a new leaseholder lurking in the wings, it does not pertain to the option Mansour failed to exercise.
Mansour had an option to exercise or not. If she does not know how things work whose fault is that? She could have spent $250 (maybe a lot less) on a lawyer at the beginning who would have told her, "Now look, when September 1, 2009 rolls around, write to the city by certified mail that you want to extend the contract for another five years." Simple as that.
Her only chance now, it would seem, is to get a lawyer to argue that Schubert's sentence ("Therefore, is it correct for me to assume that you do not wish to renew the agreement with the city?") created an estoppel that bars the city from not renewing the contract with her.
Seemingly leaving the door open like this is one of two apparent blunders by Schubert in this matter. The other was that he failed to inform the city manager about a flock of complaints that had come in about the coffee shop.
According to all hands this corner has spoken to, the latter would have called for instant dismissal in the private sector.
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