Mayor and City Council violated its policies with radio tower lease

The Pensacola City Council ratified its policy for the disposition (by sale or lease) of city-owned real property on the day Mayor Ashton Hayward and the council were sworn into office on Jan. 10, 2011.

That policy was ignored by City Administrator Bill Reynolds when he presented 16 months later a lease agreement for the city-owned radio tower located in the Long Hollow Conservation District.

When he made his presentation to the council in May 2012, Reynolds argued that tower was in bad repair and Divine Word Communication was only paying $200/mo. for its use.

“…as we looked at it we recognized that we have a safety issue with the tower at this point, it can’t be used for anything else, and frankly the city was not getting its fair recompense based upon where we are today and the value added that it brings,” said the city administrator.

The proposed lease raised the monthly rent to $600 for the first 10 years and to $700 for the second decade of the lease. The city administrator recognized that the tower’s location was one of the prime spots in the city for a radio tower.

“Essentially the question then is for this council whether we as the tower owners take the tower down, which frankly would cause a hardship to the radio station because where it is located apparently is one of the prime radio location places,” said Reynolds.

However, according to the policies ratified by the city council, neither Mayor Hayward nor his city administrator could decide to negotiate with Divine Word Communication without first getting approval from the council and notifying nearby property owners. Public records show that Reynolds had begun negotiating with Divine Communication as early as October 2011.

According to city council policy, the mayor first had to identify the surplus or otherwise available city-owned property–in this case, the radio tower–and recommend to the City Council a method of the transaction, either by open bid, RFP, direct negotiation or economic development direct negotiation.

The City Council then confirms it wants to make the property available for sale or lease and approves the transaction method.

All of this should have happened before the mayor’s office began negotiating with Divine Communication.

Furthermore property owners within a 300-ft. radius should have been notified. Had this happened, Long Hollow residents and property owners may have pointed out the tower’s non-confirming uses to the mayor and council.

By not opening the property to other interested parties, the city had no assurance that it got the best lease rate for the tower site, which Reynolds said was “one of the prime radio locations places.” We also know that Divine Communication has already lined up other radio stations, including WRNE, Cat Country and NewsRadio 1620, to lease space on it.

The more one looks at this entire transaction–from the lease negotiations, presentation to the city council, permitting, construction and the city’s willingness to look the other way when city ordinances, state laws and lease provisions weren’t followed–more and more irregularities are uncovered.

From the Policies of the City Council:

POLICY FOR DISPOSITION OF CITY OWNED REAL PROPERTY – Adopted by Council Action January 13, 2000. Revised November 21, 2002 & September 13, 2007; Amended by Resolution August 21, 2010 effective Noon, January 10, 2011

The following guidelines apply to the disposition (by sale or lease) of City-owned property other than at the airport or port.

Types of Disposal by Sale or Lease
A. Open Bid
B. RequestforProposal(R.FP)
C. DirectNegotiation
D. Economic Development Option

1. The Mayor identifies City property as surplus or otherwise available for disposal, utilization or development and recommends to City Council through the appropriate committee a method of transaction (open bid, RFP, direct negotiation or economic development direct negotiation).

2. City Council confirms property availability and determines the transaction method as outlined below.

3. Open Bid Option:
• Obtain appraisal.
• Notify property owners within 300 foot radius
• Prepare bid specifications.
• Accept public sealed bids.
• Council accepts or rejects bid.

4. RFP Option:
• Obtain appraisal.
• Notify property owners within 300 foot radius.
• Identify development or utilization criteria based on comprehensive plan, master plans, economic or market conditions, impact on adjacent neighborhoods,neighborhood input, and physical characteristics of property.
• Prepare RFP requirements and specifications.
• Accept public sealed proposal(s).
• Council accepts or rejects proposal(s).

5. Direct Negotiation Option:
• Obtain appraisal (unless property is of little or no value).
• Notify property owners within 300 foot radius.
• Administration negotiates agreement.
• Council accepts or rejects bid.

6. Economic Development Option:
• Obtain appraisal (unless property is of little or no value).
• Notify property owners within 300 foot radius.
• Minimum Qualifying Criteria:
• Will result in the creation of new jobs in the City, and
Will substantially enhance the economic health of the City by creating jobs with an average salary of at least 130% of average annual Pensacola MSA Wages according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, and
• The new jobs created are in a Qualified Targeted Industry (QTI) approved by the Florida Office of Trade, Tourism and Economic Development as
prescribed in F.S. 288.106, and
• The company that will benefit from the sale or lease of publicly-owned land must demonstrate that over 50 percent of its annual sales revenue is generated from outside of the Pensacola MSA.
• Administration negotiates agreement.
• Council accepts or rejects agreement/offer.