Thursday, June 12, 2014

$1331.21/Month Lease for Florida Cracker Cafe: City Leases 81 St. George Street to Mayor BOLES and Former Mayor WEEKS

Mayor JOSEPH LESTER BOLES, Jr. Photo credit: the late Greg Travous and Hans Holbein the Younger.

Exhibit A in self-dealing in the City of St. Augustine is the Florida Cracker Cafe lease.
The sweetheart lease for 81 St. George Street is up for five-year renewal on July 25, 2014.
The Cracker Cafe is a wildly successful restaurant business built some 25 years ago on City land by former Mayor CLAUDE LEONARD WEEKS, Jr. (a/k/a "LEN WEEKS), in partnership with JOSEPH LESTER BOLES, JR. (a/k/a "JOE BOLES").
Mr. WEEKS is a frequent appointee of Mayor BOLES to city boards and committees, including the Historic Architectural Review Board, which he chairs, and the Visioning Steering Committee. Mr. WEEKS lives in St. Augustine Beach and served on that City's Charter Review Committee, 2013-14.
Part of the deal is that the lessees maintain bathrooms for the City.
The lessees now lease the building to several tenants, including The Florida Cracker Cafe and Savannah Sweets. Their sweet $1331.21/month rent is considerably below market rates.
Perhaps 1/5 to 1/10 of market rates.
It's not fair.
I asked Mayor BOLES and City Commissioners at their meeting on Monday, June 9, 2014 to discuss the deal, the lease renewal and the rental rate. In public, in the Sunshine, before the lease is renewed for another five years, Commissioners need to discuss why we're leasing City land to "insiders" at scandalously low rental rates.
No one brought it up.
Not a peep from the other Commissioners.
JFK might have said this reflects a "negative Profile in Courage."
None of the Commissioners wanted to offend Mayor BOLES or ex-Mayor WEEKS.
Each of them took an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws, not an oath to Mayor BOLES, or ex-Mayor WEEKS.
Rose Kennedy's favorite Bible verse was "To whom much is given, much is expected."
Much has been given to Messrs. BOLES and WEEKS.
They have done a lot for Our Town.
But they need to look into their hearts about their lease deal renewal.
Messrs BOLES & WEEKS should volunteer to pay more rent.
They should be proud and honored to agree to higher payments.
Otherwise, the lease should be canceled, after a public hearing (with Mayor BOLES recused).
The below-market rent for 81 St. George Street might easily be construed as an unethical conflict of interest and an appearance of impropriety for a lawyer (Mayor BOLES) and for another licensed professional, a contractor (former Mayor WEEKS).
Some people might think it looks like they profit handsomely from their public service.
It's wrong.
It's bad for morale of other business owners, struggling to survive paying market rents to commercial landlords.
It's bad for civic pride.
It's bad for our image -- the Pope is coming, the world is watching, our 450th commemoration is next year, and this sweetheart lease deal makes us look small -- like hick hacks.
It does not pass the laugh test.
It does not pass the smell test.
City Manager John Patrick Regan, P.E. knows it -- he should direct staff to obtain an appraisal, determine what a fair market rent would be, and enter into discussions about raising the rent.
That's not too much to ask -- our water rates are double what they should be, subsidizing profit-making businesses like the Florida Cracker Cafe and the building lessee, while rental rates for a few privileged characters are de minimis, if not de micromis, subsidizing profit-making businesses like the Florida Cracker Cafe and the building lessee.
It makes us feel like Alexander Hamilton said about New Jersey (located between New York City and Philadelphia) -- "a cask tapped at both ends."
As Thomas Jefferson said, a public office is a public trust.
What do you reckon?

Florida Cracker Cafe building at 81 St. George Street
Photo credit: Trip Advisor

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