Grovetown city officials said they are working to rectify what they called an improperly delivered message that spurred community concern the city was attempting to boot two local nonprofit groups housed off city-owned property.
City administrator John Waller said a letter sent to the local Lion’s Club last month requesting the nonprofit vacate the property by Dec. 31, 2017, was not messaged properly and that both parties are currently working on an outcome best for both. Waller stated the club’s lease would not be terminated until both sides can reach an agreement.
“There is not an intent, nor was there ever, to ‘put out’ the Lion’s Club from where they currently are,” Waller said. “The intent was to disentangle a city from potential perceptions of favoritism and supporting one nonprofit over another.”
Waller described the situation as tricky because the Lion’s Club funded the construction of their building on city-owned land, however the city has no oversight of how the building is used, causing a liability issue.
“The entire thrust of this is to make sure we are being fair and open to any and all nonprofits, to leverage the facilities that the city has control of,” Waller said, adding that the ultimate goal is to place the scheduling and coordination of all city-owned meeting space under the supervision of the Leisure, Parks and Recreation Department.
Waller said the idea has been raised to have the land appraised and discuss a sale of the portion the Lion’s Club building sits on, but no decision has been made.
While leaders are still in talks on an agreeable course of action, the initial letter caused concern for some residents.
The letter initially prompted one Lion’s Club member to attend last month’s city council meeting to ask why they were being kicked out, with a lease agreement valid through 2031.
In addition, the action was cited as one of several complaints to the state attorney general’s office recently made against Grovetown Mayor Gary Jones by newly elected city councilwoman Deborah Fisher. The complaint was ultimately dismissed by the office.
Fisher wrote in her complaint, which cited violations of the open meetings law by Jones, that the concerns surrounding the fate of the Lion’s Club prompted her to file her complaint sooner than planned, in that three of the city council members had no knowledge the city asked the club to vacate the property.
Waller agreed the letter was not delivered properly and verbiage about the club vacating the property has since been changed.
Changes to operations of a second nonprofit, Concerned Women Inc. have also sparked some concerns.
Waller said the Lion’s Club is not the only nonprofit liability issue. However unlike the Lion’s Club, which Waller called self-sufficient, Concerned Women Inc., do not own the building and only pay a portion of the utilities.
“That part is a little bit more challenging because they have not been financially independent, so we need as the city, to make sure that the Concerned Women Inc., are paying all of their operating costs, so there’s an issue with that.”
In May, Concerned Women Inc., turned down the option to move from their Newmantown Road location to the empty senior center building. Grovetown city council unanimously agreed to allow the group to rent the building for $5 a month and pay all utilities, according to the proposed lease agreement.
But now, Waller said he plans to facilitate meetings with Concerned Women Inc., leaders at a later time to also try to come to some agreement with the location they are in now.
The group provides food, clothing and a variety of other necessities for free for a large number of homeless and impoverished families in the area.
Waller said he wants the nonprofits to continue the work they do.
“We love the Lion’s Club, we love Concerned Women, so all of this has zero to do with the great work they’re doing, we are glad they’re here, we would love to have more nonprofits here,” he said. “There’s a great need for the work they do. We are just trying to make sure at the city level that all nonprofits, faith based organizations, whomever, have the same access to the same facilities as everybody else.”