Hanks makes a mess ... and we have to pay to clean it up. Thanks Hanks! -- Jim
From the Delaware Gazette. Thanks for outing Hanks! -- Jim
County sued over BMV lease
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
By ANDREW TOBIAS
Saying a four-year-old lease was invalid because it had not been signed by county commissioners, Delaware County officials in August stopped paying rent for a Lewis Center office that used to house a county-run BMV location.
The landlord has responded with a $144,000 lawsuit against the county filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court earlier this month.
Tuller Square Northpointe LLC, a subsidiary of Casto properties, is suing the county for about $139,100 — the amount remaining on a rental agreement for a shopping center storefront at 8625 U.S. 23S in Lewis Center. The lease runs through August 2012.
The company also is demanding at least $5,000 in legal fees.
In August, Delaware County commissioners stopped paying its monthly $4,091.42 rent and utility payments to Tuller Square Northpointe for the storefront. At that time, commissioner Ken O’Brien refused to authorize any rent payments at county auditor George Kaitsa’s recommendation.
The lawsuit was filed Nov. 3, but the county didn’t receive notification until last week, court records show.
The county has until mid-December to respond to the lawsuit. County officials have previously said they hoped to settle the matter without delving into litigation.
The storefront used to hold a BMV deputy registrar location, which had been run by the county auditor’s office since 2005, until the state closed it in June. The BMV was too close to another location in Franklin County, state officials said.
Kaitsa, who was appointed to his position earlier this year, had asked the county prosecutor’s office to review the lease for the old BMV office to see if there was a way to get out of it so taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for an empty building.
After looking over the lease, the prosecutor’s office said the lease was invalid because it was signed by former auditor Todd Hanks, and not the county commissioners as the law requires.
So, Kaitsa decided to vacate the storefront and turn in his keys.
“I feel it was the only decision I could make since it was not a valid lease,” Kaitsa said Monday, while declining to comment further.
Assistant prosecutor Bill Owen said the prosecutors’ office would “aggressively defend” the lawsuit, which he said was “without merit.”
“The fact that there was previously a lease honored at that location doesn’t change the fact that the county had every authority to terminate that lease,” he said.
County commissioners, who have discussed the matter in closed-door executive sessions, declined to comment for this story.
“At this point, I think it would be premature for any of us to say anything since it’s approaching litigation,” commission president Tommy Thompson said.
Commissioner O’Brien has previously said the county shouldn’t pay for an invalid contract. O’Brien also said Monday that Hanks should abstain from discussing the lawsuit or voting on any potential settlement payments since his signature is on the lease.
If the lawsuit is settled out of court, it would need the approval of at least two county commissioners.
It is unclear how four years passed before someone noticed the commissioners hadn’t signed the contract.
Delaware County Prosecutor Dave Yost has previously said his office reviewed the contract for the first time in August when Kaitsa asked them to. His office only reviews contracts when specifically asked, he said in August.
“Our office reviews things that are submitted to us, and we reply in writing,” Yost told the Gazette at the time.
Attorneys Dan J. Binau and Emily J. Jackson, representing Tuller Square Northpointe LLC, were not available for comment for this story.
The state awarded the county rights to open and operate the Lewis Center location in 2005 to compliment a nearby county-run title agency, which is still open.
At the time, Hanks secured a $100,000 contribution from the county’s general fund to open the Lewis Center BMV, saying it would be a money-maker for the county in just a few years.
However, performance lagged far behind his projections, which had been provided by the state.
The BMV turned its first profit of $19,000 in 2008. It roughly broke even this year before closing in June, but experienced a net loss of about $214,000 over its lifetime. Its seven full-time employees have since been transferred to other departments.