Six weeks ago, the Flagler Beach City Commission voted to break its 35-year lease with Flagler Golf Management, seven years after the company started running the nine-hole Ocean Palms Golf Club at the south end of town. The city was dissatisfied with the company’s accounting and the look of the facility.
Six days later, the city issued a notice to the company to vacate the premises: “The lease has been terminated and the decision is final,” City Manager William Whitson wrote Tiffany “Belle” McManus, who now runs the company, and her attorney, Adam Franzen of Ft. Lauderdale. Whitson gave McManus 14 days to vacate the property, threatening eviction otherwise.
McManus stayed put, and golf operations continued.
On April 8, Flagler Golf Management sued the city in circuit court, contending that the city may have not properly comply with lease terms giving the company time to “cure” or fix contractual breaches. The lawsuit is also challenging the city’s notice to vacate the golf course property.
A week later, the city filed an eviction notice in circuit court–and is now demanding double the current $2,950 annual rent there.
During the March 10 commission meeting, Drew Smith, the city attorney, compared the end of the lease to a divorce. “If it’s amicable, that’s one process,” he said. “If it’s not amicable, it’s another process and the non-amicable route can delay things on the RFP side.” The severing has decidedly taken an un-amicable path, complicating the city’s plan to replace Flagler Golf Management with a new company. Whitson in March said he couldn’t predict what response he would get from a request for proposal, only that he was familiar with the process, and had gone through it previously.
Flagler Golf Management’s lawsuit is not against the city in the usual sense. Rather, it is asking the court for a “declaratory judgment,” defined as “a binding judgment from a court defining the legal relationship between parties and their rights in a matter before the court.”
Flagler Golf is raising two questions it wants the court to address: “Whether the City has properly complied with the ‘Notice’ terms” to cure issues in dispute, and “Whether and when Flagler Golf is required to vacate the premises.”
Flagler Golf and the city disagree in their interpretation of events leading to the March 10 meeting. Since the two sides have an antagonistic relationship, Flagler Golf is asking the court to arbitrate, arguing–perhaps with difficulty–that it “seeks relief that is not merely giving of legal advice from this Court.”
The city, anticipating the lawsuit in its eviction notice, is arguing otherwise–that the facts are not in dispute, and that the city afforded the company the opportunities required by the lease to cure problems, more than once. Parts of the city’s eviction document lists for the court the history of the difficult relationship between the city and the company, and how the city almost terminated the lease in 2017, for some of the same reasons: lack of accounting details such as quarterly profit and loss statements, plus failure to pay rent. “Despite being reminded of their obligations to keep good records in 2017, FGM did not consistently comply with the recordkeeping and reporting standards of the Lease,” the city argues.
The more recent trigger of the city’s decision finally to end the lease was the city’s request to perform a complete audit of the company’s books, which was never accomplished. The city contends it never got the necessary documents. The company says it provided all it could even though it had not maintained records according to standard procedures.
The government acknowledges that McManus was in frequent contact with city officials between getting a default notice and the March 10 meeting, but that no curing took place as requested. Rather, Bruce Godwin, a partner of McManus’s in the golf operation, confirmed–at times to his surprise–that numbers were lacking and accounting methods wanting.
Both sides are also wanting the other to pay attorneys’ fees and costs.