Despite legal concerns expressed by local attorney Blake Montgomery, the Hope City Board unanimously passed a five-year pact with the Hope Farmer's Market on Tuesday night, which guarantees the participating farmers exclusive use of the Graves property and adjacent parking for two days a week.
Despite legal concerns expressed by local attorney Blake Montgomery, the Hope City Board unanimously passed a five-year pact with the Hope Farmer’s Market on Tuesday night, which guarantees the participating farmers exclusive use of the Graves property and adjacent parking for two days a week.
Included in the unanimous vote was Board Director Trevor Coffee; his wife Jodi Coffee is the Farmer’s Market manager, who will sign agreement as a representative of the market, according to the copy of the document obtained by the Hope Star.
Two weeks ago, Trevor Coffee had both made the motion authorizing the drafting of the document and voted in favor of the authorization during a roll call vote.
In his presentation to the board on Tuesday night, Blake Montgomery, who is unrelated to Mayor Steve Montgomery, pointed out that the Farmer’s Market is neither a legal 501c3 charity, nor was it registered with the State of Arkansas as an incorporated organization.
“I don’t know who or what the Farmer’s Market really is — except for Jodi Coffee,” Blake Montgomery mused at one point.
Expressing other legal concerns, Blake Montgomery suggested that the City of Hope could be opening itself up to a taxpayer lawsuit, based on what he called state extraction laws.
“The City should consider that under the law this may not be proper use of city resources,” he said.
One exception that he noted was for “Economic Development” transactions, which he expressed his opinion that the Hope Farmer’s Market did not meet that qualification, partially because it was not a non-profit organization.
Finally, Blake Montgomery closed saying, “This is not even a lease, because they are not paying a rent. This agreement impairs the city from doing anything else with the land, and says the city must deliver control of the property to the Farmer’s Market every Tuesday for the next five years.”
Hope City Attorney Joe Short, however, countered saying that the agreement includes a “termination clause,” giving either party 30 day notice, and Short said the Board of Directors can take a vote to terminate at any time within the five year span.
Steve Montgomery questioned the distinction between a full-time lease and “letting them use it for a few hours a couple of days a week,” calling it “a fine line.”
City Manager Catherine Cook said the Farmer’s Market was a long standing “public interest” for the citizens of Hope, and she also cited other similar agreements the City of Hope had for other city properties, such as the old State Police building.
Steve Montgomery noted “We just did the deal with the Lion’s Club on that,” but Blake Montgomery countered that Lion’s Club International is a registered 501c3 and a well-known charitable organization, while the Hope Farmer’s Market was not.
Even after the agreement was passed on a unanimous vote, there was still some disconnection over what one Market vendor, Mark Silvey, said was a “verbal agreement” between the Market and City, if a Pavillon was constructed on the property within the five-year span.
While Short said there was no “verbal agreement” on anything, Cook offered the agreement would likely be amended, while two board members said there was no guarantee that a Pavillon or the money for a Pavillon was going to materialize.
In other city news Tuesday night:
• Hope Downtown Network President Bob Erwin said that the next Trade Day has been cancelled due to a rainy forecast for Saturday, but that other June 24 events in connection with "Summer In the City,” like the Baggo Tournament and Fish Fry were still on. In case of rain, Erwin said fish would be served in the Senior Citizens Center at Main and Division.