City Attorney Advises Against Making Significant Changes In Golf Course Lease

March 3, 2008
Dwayne Page

The Smithville Mayor and Aldermen Monday night left unresolved two issues they will soon have to face, setting a pay scale for the police investigator position, and the status of the golf course lease with tenant Jimmy Lewis.

On the golf course issue, Lewis has a lease with the city to operate the golf course and swimming pool through 2017 at $2500 per month. Faced with the possibility that Lewis might want to give up the lease, Mayor Taft Hendrixson, at a workshop last week, proposed that Lewis' lease be amended.

Under Mayor Hendrixson's proposal, Lewis would continue operating the golf course through the year 2017, but he would be relieved of his responsibility for operating the swimming pool. Hendrixson proposed cutting Lewis' rent in half from $2,500 per month to $1,250 per month, but Lewis would be responsible for all upkeep and maintenance of the golf course. Mayor Hendrixson further proposed that the swimming pool operation and maintenance be funded from the city's recreation budget.

However City Attorney Vester Parsley, Jr., on Monday night, said these proposed changes are so significant that the lease, in his opinion, cannot be amended. "I've looked over the lease agreement that you have with Jimmy Lewis that was entered into on March 22nd, 2006. Although it does have a provision for modifications, I don't think it's contemplated that we would make a major deviation from the current contract. Currently, Mr. Lewis is supposed to be paying $2,500 per month and there was discussion about reducing that in half and then also the (city) taking over the swimming pool which Mr. Lewis currently has to manage. My feeling is that because this is such a major deviation from the contract, the city would probably have to re-let that contract if they were going to do that and if Mr. Lewis opts to say he is going to terminate his agreement with the city then I think the city has no option other than re-letting and let others vie for that contract. You're talking about a significant deviation from the contract. This contract goes through 2017 and there is no provision to have that big a deviation so I feel like that it would be ill advised for the city to deviate and make those major changes since other people may want to vie for that contract."

Alderman Tonya Sullivan asked Parsley about the section in the lease referring to "‘modifications" and what that might cover. Parsley said it was his opinion that minor changes could be made subject to a written agreement signed by the parties but nothing major. " Here we're not only talking about losing income, we're also talking about taking on a new liability of managing the swimming pool which entails hiring personnel and paying all their salaries, workers comp, and whatever is necessary."

Parsley further advised the aldermen to be careful about modifying it's contracts. "For example, we had a hay contract (awarded) last time (last meeting). Somebody might come back next time and say ‘I don't like my agreement and I want to cut it in half'. Are we going to start modifying all our contracts for people who are really not having good luck with their contracts. I don't think the city wants to get in that posture."

Mayor Hendrixson said "I was proposing something to try to keep the golf course viable. Jimmy has done a good job with the golf course and maybe the city could take over (pool operation) and have some recreation, a cheaper rate or something at the swimming pool for the children. But I certainly don't want to go against our legal advice and I'm not going to."

Alderman Sullivan made a motion that the mayor and aldermen have another workshop with Lewis to discuss the issue further. The motion carried 5 to 0. The workshop will be held following the 6:00 p.m. planning commission meeting Thursday night at city hall.

Also during that workshop Thursday night, the mayor and aldermen will try to agree on a pay scale for the police investigator position.

When the aldermen hired Jerry Hutchins', Jr as police investigator in January, they did not specifically address his rate of pay, apparently unaware that the city budget currently does not provide a pay scale for the position of "investigator".

Two weeks ago, the board voted 5 to 0 to start Hutchins at a sergeant's rate of pay, $11.89 per hour and increase it to $13.13 per hour after sixty days. Once the pay scale is set, Hutchins may earn more than sergeants pay.

On Monday night, City Attorney Parsley said he had done some research on what the city has paid other officers in the past who have performed similar duties based on their experience. "The last investigator we had was officer Bill Elliott. It's my understanding, he started as a patrolman in probably March, 2006. At some point along the way, about May 14th, 2007, he was appointed to investigator and received a pay rate at that time of $12.28 per hour. Thereafter, he received, by virtue of the budget, an increase in pay to $12.62. He received a pay raise on July 17th, just seven days later, to $13.76."

"The next investigator after him (Elliott) was officer Steve Deffendoll who began his work here as a patrolman. He started out as a patrolman at $11.13, then he went to $12.30 at sergeant's pay in June, 2006. In July, 2006, he went to $13.39 by virtue of the raise they got through the budget process. The following year, on April 20th, he went to $15.20 at Lieutenant's pay, then on July 10th, he received another raise up to $15.95 and that was the pay rate he had according to the records here when he left the service of the city."

"Prior to that, You had officer Chris Russell, who also started as patrolman. I don't know exactly when he was appointed as investigator, but when he left his service here in July, 2006 he was making $14.60. I don't know if that was comparable to sergeant's pay, or whatever. There was no notation."

"Prior to him was Don Wilson. He started out in November, 2000 at $8.81 and after he completed his probationary period, he was making $9.85 in March, 2001 and he left employment with the city sometime thereafter."

"Charles Dennis is the last one I could find and he was making $9.85 by the time he left."

Alderman Sullivan made a motion that the workshop be held to resolve the pay dispute. The motion was approved on a 5-0 vote. Again, the workshop will be held following the 6:00 p.m. planning commission meeting Thursday night at city hall.

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