City councilors approved a lease for the city's new teen center in a 9-2 vote Tuesday night, but not before some councilors criticized Mayor Gary Christenson for signing the lease before a formal review by the city council.
“The council (and the mayor) needs to start following the rules and ordinances of the city,” councilor Neil Kinnon said. “We are getting a lease that is already signed, and the city council – particularly (the) public properties (committee) should have gotten this lease before it was signed...we have ordinances which state that the council should approve prior, not after, the fact.”
Kinnon had opposed the center during budget deliberations earlier this year, saying the program should begin as a smaller pilot program that could grow with increased interest.
Councilor Craig Spadafora, who voted for the center, said he nevertheless agreed with Kinnon.
“I think the bigger picture is...I do wish that (Christenson) sent this down, or asked the council before he signed this,” he said.
“Tomorrow, if the mayor walked down the street and said 'I want a new city hall,'...(and signed a lease), there is nobody sitting here who would think that was alright to (do).
A motion to table the lease and invite the mayor to discuss his decision to unilaterally sign the lease failed in a 6-5 vote.
Reached by cell phone, Christenson said he was “surprised” by some of the criticisms.
“This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone because we did debate the concept – we heard from the council on the length and the cost (of the lease), which we addressed in the lease we signed.”
Christenson said he had provided the council with weekly updates on the project's status over the summer, and noted Finance Committee Chair Greg Lucey was involved with the project and review of the lease's conditions.
“No one asked to participate in (the negotiation) process or see anything having to do with the provisions contained within,” Christenson said. “From the administration's point of view, we definitely kept everyone in the loop and were able to incorporate some of what the council suggested.”
“Now, if that wasn't the case – if we signed up with no knowledge, no input, nothing – they'd have a point,” he concluded. “But we debated this initiative for a while, and worked during the summer to accommodate their concerns.”
What's next for the teen center?
While the city will fund the rent, some staff and ancillary funds, the center will be run by a 501c(3) organization tasked with fund-raising for the program.
The center is expected to open sometime this October.