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Boards seek consensus on collections

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Two city departments are going to craft an agreement outlining responsibilities for collecting and handling payments from restaurants operating in The Commons.

The memo of understanding between the Columbus Redevelopment Commission and Columbus Parks and Recreation Board will formally designate who will collect rent and utility payments from tenants.

Park board and City Council members had argued in recent weeks that last year’s resolution designating responsibility to the city parks department was not valid, since parks leaders were given no opportunity to either accept or reject it.

Redevelopment Commission members Monday night designated their attorney, Stan Gamso, to work with city attorney Jeff Logston, representing the park board, to come up with a document that would outline how parks department personnel would continue collecting lease payments from restaurants operating in the city-owned Commons.

The agreement will go to both the redevelopment commission and the park board for approval, Gamso said.

The issue of one city board assigning another city department a responsibility, without agreement from both, had become a sore spot among council members, the park board and the redevelopment commission.

The issue erupted in late December when city officials learned that Snappy Tomato Pizza had not made any rent payments to the city for all of 2013, racking up a debt of $27,238, including late penalties.

Mayor Kristen Brown held then-parks and recreation director Ben Wagner responsible for failing to have procedures in place that would have detected the missing rent payments, and on Dec. 30 she demoted him to marketing director in the department and cut his pay in half.

In an earlier interview, Wagner said he was not sure why the parks department was ever designated to receive the money. He said it made more sense for the payments to go to the leaseholder — the redevelopment commission.

Wagner responded to the demotion by saying the mayor’s claims were unfounded and did not merit demotion.

“The issue probably is that there is no written agreement, no memorandum of understanding, between the Redevelopment Commission and the Parks and Recreation Department,” Wagner said in an earlier interview.

The city set new controls early this month on how Commons tenants were to be monitored about paying rent and utilities. The new procedures were established by Brown; Matt Caldwell, the city’s director of operations and finances; and Jamie Brinegar, director of business services for the parks department.

Those procedures call for parks department employees who work at The Commons to notify the redevelopment commission president, who is also the mayor, and the commission attorney, Gamso, if a tenant fails to pay rent or utilities.

The parks director of business services must now provide monthly financial reports about the rent and utilities payments to the city and park board.

While the attorneys work out the agreement between redevelopment and parks, redevelopment director Heather Pope was asked to approach the city’s garage management and operation company, REI, to determine if the company might also pick up management of The Commons restaurant leases.

Earlier in the meeting, REI’s Gary Thompson gave an update about financial operations of the two downtown parking garages, prompting redevelopment commission member Steven Scgalski to suggest that perhaps the company could oversee the four Commons restaurant leases as well.

The commission needs an entity such as REI that can provide monthly reports and accountability about the leases, Scgalski said. Thompson’s detailed report on the garages provided financial updates on leases of parking spaces and showed both garages were operating in the black.

The board agreed that Thompson perhaps could be that reporting person on the restaurant leases. However, they approved having the attorneys work out the agreement between the two city departments, while Pope would approach REI informally about any interest in picking up restaurant lease oversight.

Snappy Tomato Pizza settled its lease and utility obligations with the city by agreeing to pay $18,500 and vacate the premises Jan. 17.

After the meeting, Gamso said he was waiting for some minor language adjustments on the Snappy Tomato settlement but expected the agreement would be completed and the settlement paid within the next few days.

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