Largo Move to Oust Café Operator Fails On Black's Initiative
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The city administration's attempt to oust the present leaseholder of the Bookmark Café at the Largo Library was short-circuited at Tuesday's City Commission meeting.
Before the commission was a question of supporting a Request for Proposal for an operator of the café.
The issue got on Tuesday's agenda through a special request by Commissioner Mary Black made last Thursday in a written communication to her fellow commissioners and the city manager.
Information in Black's letter measured against what the city provided in its memo for the agenda item, raises questions. For one thing, the memo does not include all the facts, if Black's letter is to be believed.
Dalal Mansour holds the current lease for the Bookmark Café, which expires June 23. A provision of the agreement stipulates that the leaseholder must give notice 270 days before the agreement's expiration if an extension or renewal is desired.
Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager, sent a letter dated October 7, 2009 to Mansour, which said, in part, "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?"
That last sentence, perhaps ambiguous, seemed to hold the door open for Mansour to renew.
Black pointed out that Mansour did take advantage of that open door. Black's letter says that Mansour did not receive Schubert's letter until October 13 and "on the same day and in writing through her CPA firm, notified the city of her definite wish to renew the agreement with the city."
That information does not appear in the memo supplied to the commission Tuesday night by Schubert.
What is included in the data is a letter from Davor Soldo, management analyst, to Mansour that spells out in peremptory terms that because the notification deadline had passed the city would proceed with an RFP.
Again, no mention of the response Black describes Mansour made, asking to renew the lease.
Black's position obviously is that Mansour complied with Schubert's apparent invitation in his October 7 letter and said in her letter requesting the matter be placed on the agenda, "Therefore, Ms. Mansour is at a loss as to why the city intends to conduct a Request for Proposal inasmuch as she responded to the question asked in the letter of October 7."
And that makes Soldo's letter look like a "gotcha." That was the exact terminology used by Mayor Pat Gerard Tuesday night and captured what the situation seemed to be all about.
Fellow commission members agreed with Black and directed that no RFP be issued.
Under the terms of the present agreement, the leaseholder pays the city $1,000 a month plus sales tax of 7 percent. The monthly payment includes the cost of all utilities.
The Bookmark Café began in 2005 with the opening of the new library and then, as now, Schubert was involved.
As the opening approach, this reporter encountered Pat Burke, who had recently stepped down as a member of the City Commission, in the Bookmark Café section of the library. Burke advised that her boyfriend, Howard Ritchie, was to have a role in the management of the coffee shop.
On August 12, 2005, the following e-mail was sent to Schubert who was then, as he is now, an assistant city manager -
Henry - Would you please give me the exact genesis of the city's relationship with Bookmark Cafe LLC -- that is, did Bookmark approach the city? Did the city approach Bookmark? Were there intermediary parties? Did anyone push, recommend, urge the city to engage Bookmark as a vendor? When the relationship with Bookmark began, took root and grew did you know the principals involved in Bookmark?The following is Schubert's response, by e-mail -
August 15, 2005Schubert's message of 2005 doesn't mention it and memory does not serve, so apparently there was no RFP for running the Bookmark Café originally.
While there is no question of Schubert's good integrity and probity, nevertheless, the process of the initial café leaseholder began with a former city commissioner and involved her boyfriend.
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