City Commission: Woman’s Club Negotiations Still OpenSep 10th, 2013 | By Admin | Category: Front Page
By Lynette Norris Greene Publishing, Inc. When the Madison City Commission began its September meeting, it was standing room only in the audience. After the item concerning the Woman’s Club was discussed, debated and voted on, nearly three quarters of those in attendance left. The proposed sale of the Woman’s Club building to the members of the club for $1 was what had brought so many people out. The issue has been ongoing for several months, ever since the City had proposed taking over custodianship of the building; the Woman’s Club members, the current custodians, had stopped renting out the building in December of 2012, after extensive and expensive incidents of vandalism and destruction of property that occurred during some of the events held there. However, by no longer renting out the premises to other groups and organizations, they unknowingly came into violation of a 1939 lease agreement with the city. “No one told us that we were in violation of anything,” said Ethel Barefoot, a member of the club in attendance. “We were just trying to protect the building from being destroyed.” Ernest Rains, addressing the commission on behalf of a group of concerned citizens, questioned the economic logic of the $1 sale in a time of tight budgets for the city of Madison. “The City of Madison certainly doesn’t need to lose money on anything,” he said, adding that the citizen’s group he represented didn’t object to the sale so much as the amount that was being asked. “If the building is sold, it should be for a fair market price,” he said. “It belongs to the citizens of Madison, and the citizens of Madison will take a loss…I’ll give you $2. I have an organization that will benefit from that building. The city needs the money.” However, nothing is as simple as it seems. Commissioner Jim Stanley stated that he had recently spoken to Jargo Clark, the son-in-law of Van H. Priest, who had furnished the land for the WPA to build the clubhouse. The city, which then owned the building, but not the land, entered into a 99-year lease with the Woman’s Club, making the club the custodians of the building responsible for maintenance and upkeep. “All those years since then, the ladies of the Woman’s Club have made all the improvements, and paid all the expenses of running the building,” said Stanley, adding that if people needed a venue for family reunions and such, the Senior Citizen’s Center with its large banquet hall was available, “and they need the money after all the budget cuts from the state.” Additionally, the lease agreement contains a clause stating that if the club ever withdrew from custodianship, the city was obligated to reimburse the club for everything that had been spent on the building’s upkeep and maintenance since the lease went into effect in 1939. Mayor Raine Cooks pointed out that city had also contributed something to the upkeep and maintenance, including a ramp, water bill payments and pumping the septic tank, and added that giving away the building was “like stepping back 50 years.” Cooks and Commissioner Judy Townsend asked about the possibility of the community “pulling together and finding a common ground” of renting out the building again. What about establishing a deposit amount and security arrangements for renters? What about some way to screen the renters? Commissioner Ina Thompson agreed, and suggested setting up a formal renter agreement that established a security deposit high enough to cover possible damage and some rules and regulations that renters had to abide by. When the question came up of how the $1 scenario emerged in the first place, City Manager Tim Bennett owned that it was his idea; when cutting the city’s budget, he had seen it as a way to save $15,000 on a requires city sewer connection to the building, and given the requirement that the city reimburse the club for years of maintenance and upkeep expenses since 1939, he saw the sale as a way to solve the whole problem. “The negotiation process is still alive and well if this (the $1 sale) does not go through,” said Bennett. “We have two good groups of people who can sit down and talk.” City Clerk Lee Ann Smith said she had been in Madison 18 years and the Woman’s Club rental had worked all those years, until the club’s decision to stop renting. It seemed only sensible to go back to that agreement and figure out how to make it work again. Others in the audience suggested that the $1 deal might look like preferential treatment, if other groups and organizations wanting similar deals from the city couldn’t get them. It was said one audience member, “a fight we don’t need.” Tina Johnson added that not everybody who rented the club was going to tear it up, and pointed out that there weren’t very many nice places available for rent in Madison for such formal occasions as weddings and such. “We’ll go in whatever direction the City Commission tells us,” said Bennett. After several more minutes of discussion and debate, the motion was made to go back to the negotiating table with all the parties and try to work something out regarding renting out the club house again – with the $1 sale option still alive and well. The commissioners approved the measure unanimously.
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