Here is the official statement from Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward regarding the decision handed down by the Florida Supreme Court that the justices would not hear his appeal of lower court decisions in favor of Seville Harbour in regards to the lease of Pitts Slip:
The City defended a lawsuit brought by Mr. Merrill and Mr. Russenberger. They have prevailed. We respect the decision of the court and will fully abide by that decision. We hope that all parties involved can come together now to advance our City’s goals.
In an open letter on the city’s Transparent Pensacola posted last June, the mayor defended the mounting legal fees and his decision to send Russenberger and the Merrill family default letters in November 2013.
He said that he and his staff’s reviewed the lease – which he described as the “Fish House lease” – and found the rent being paid was not what was called for in the lease. Therefore he sent out the default letters. He asserted that he withdrew the letters when the tenant agreed to “legitimate issues which should be the subject of open and frank discussion.”
Inweekly contacted attorney Ed Fleming, who represented Seville Harbour. He disagreed with several statements made by the mayor in his letter. Fleming said that he was not given any interoffice memos during the discovery phase that showed the mayor and his staff had found the companies in default and recommended sending the letters. In December 2013, Inweekly requested all correspondence on the issue, and there was no memo or any communications with Merrill Land, Seville Harbour or their attorneys regarding the rent payments being wrong. Read document trail.
Fleming said that former City Administrator Colleen Castille admitted that the letters were sent to force the tenant to renegotiate. Had the mayor withdrawn his position the lawsuit would not had been filed, according to Fleming. His clients had to file the lawsuit to clear their names and preserve their rights —which is what the courts have done.
Judge Scott Duncan not only ruled that Seville Harbour and Merrill Land didn’t owe the city any additional rent, but he also determined that Seville Harbor’s lease with the City of Pensacola was properly renewed for another 30 years. Mayor Hayward and his staff had failed to object to the request for renewal on a timely basis. Therefore, the lease was renewed for an additional 30 years, as per the original agreement.
The open letter has been removed from the city website, but I kept a copy:
Editor’s Note: And for the record – I own 90 percent of Inweekly. Ray Russenberger, owner of Seville Harbor, owns 2.5 percent of the paper. Collier Merrill, partner in The Fish House and Merrill Land, owns a five percent interest. Neither has, or has ever had, any control over the paper’s editorial coverage.