Despite having already been executed by the mayor, the Claxton City Council voted Monday night to table a consideration to enter into a lease agreement with the Claxton-Evans Chamber of Commerce.
The lease agreement for a building owned by the City was on the agenda for Monday’s meeting – a regularly scheduled council meeting – after the Chamber reportedly began paying rent earlier this year. Mayor Terry Branch, who also serves as the city administrator, said the Chamber started paying rent after the city and the Chamber entered into an agreement for services provided for the tourism marketing and economic development and that he needed the Council to vote to approve the lease if they had no changes to make to the agreement.
The lease outlines:
- $500 per month in rent;
- a one-year lease term;
- prohibitions on subletting the building.
But documents provided to AllOnGeorgia in an Open Records Request the week prior indicate that Branch had already negotiated the terms of the agreement with the Chamber and the involved parties signed the lease prior to Council voting on the matter. The document was notarized by the city clerk as well. The lease is dated July 1, 2019 – 78 days prior to the council meeting.
When it came time to present the issue to Council Monday, Branch said he was “premature” in signing the agreement. “I did sign it because they had been paying rent but I am bringing it to you at this time for our approval.”
At Monday’s meeting, Councilwoman Lisa Perry asked Branch where the $500 per month came from, which Branch said “That…just…the amount was…at looking at other rental properties seemed to be a fair amount.” Perry pressed Branch over whether or not it was him that made the decision about the $500 rent, “I know this was not something that was presented to council,” she said.
“Right,” Branch replied.
Perry also asked when the agreement had been signed by the involved parties. “Lisa…last week. It had to have been last week,” Branch told the Council.
The Georgia Municipal Association frowns upon city employees and city officials signing contracts that have not been approved by the governing authority – or the city council. The majority of city charters in Georgia have ethics clauses prohibiting such acts as well, however, Claxton’s Charter makes no mention of ethics.
Councilman Risher Willard asked who had been paying the utilities prior to July 1, 2019, to which Branch said, “The Chamber,” but upon further pressing by Councilwoman Tina Hagan, Branch said the City pays the Georgia Power bill each month, which averages $150 per month, and the Chamber pays the water/sewer bill.
Perry voiced concerns over the fact that the lease agreement did not specify details about the utilities, though the lease expressly states the electricity is the responsibility of the City. The lease also leaves out any agreement between the Chamber and the Economic Development Authority to share rent, as the EDA does not have its own lease agreement with the City and sends monthly expense reimbursements to the Chamber, not the City.
The City currently sends $19,500 to the Chamber on an annual basis, so the Chamber is essentially sending $6,000 back to the City, though rent is shared 50/50 with the EDA, which is funded by taxpayers.
Perry made a motion to table the agenda item, stating she would like to have more time to look into the details and have more discussion. Her motion was seconded by Tina Hagan and passed unanimously.
Once the details gain final approval, it will mark the first time the City and the Chamber have had a lease agreement as required by law.
You can watch the discussion on this topic in the video below. It begins just after the 39:00 mark. The lease agreement is below the video.
Claxton City Council Meeting — September 16, 2019
Posted by All On Georgia – Evans on Monday, September 16, 2019
September 18, 2019 at 2:08 am
GREAT job covering local GOVT!
Ms. Deryl Y. Lee
September 26, 2019 at 4:46 pm
I agree Ms. Szilagyi, you are doing a marvelous job covering local government in GA’s counties. Will you cover the meeting on Thursday 9/26 at 6:00PM in Claxton re:40.5% Property Tax Increase? As far as the Chamber of Commerce contract with the City of Claxton, should a RFP occur before deciding to use the Chamber of Commerce? That relationship has some “fishiness”.