The following e-mail letter from John Chaffee dated January 16, 2013 has been sent to the members of the MPRB’s Administration and Finance Committee. John Chaffee is a resident of Nicollet Island and a member of Park Watch.
There are a good many policy issues connected with the Loppet deal, and I’m sure other people will address them. I’d like to comment on what seem to be some problems with the documents. I am not an attorney, but have read a good many public documents prepared by the Park Board and other bodies, and later observed how they worked, or did not work.
My comments are as follows:
No statement of purpose or public benefits: The Lease gives Loppet possession of the property for 25 years. Section 6 gives a brief list of what Loppet is to do, but there are no broad statements about what is to be accomplished.
Ideally such a facility should serve all members of the public, regardless of income; provide a wide range of activities; and not interfere unnecessarily with any other park uses. And any charges made should be no more than necessary to cover costs. There needs to be some language to that effect.
No defined right of access for the public: The Lease, like any other lease, gives Loppet possession of the property and the right to control it. There needs to be a statement that the public will have access to the parkland in the same manner as other parkland, and that Loppet is only managing it. There is a “Proprietary Rights” statement in the MOU which says the Park Board will continue to own the land. That is not helpful, because MPRB’s ownership will be subject to the Lease.
No transparency as to Loppet’s finances: Since Loppet is, or apparently will be, a contractor / partner for MPRB, its finances should be transparent and MPRB should have the right to review its books and records. This condition should be spelled out now.
No restrictions on Loppet’s expenditures: Responsible charitable organizations typically follow guidelines that call for spending 85% of revenues on programming and only 15% on fundraising and administration. Will Loppet agree to that, or something similar? If so, that condition should be in one of these documents before the Board takes action. If Loppet will not agree, a different contractor should be sought.
No legal description; documents not recordable: The Lease contains a sketch showing the land area which Loppet is to control. But there is no legal description. That means two things—
1) The land area to be controlled by Loppet is not clearly defined, which could lead to disputes in the future.
2) A document without a legal description cannot be recorded in the Hennepin County Recorder’s office, because there is no way to index it. A lease that ties up public property for 25 years should be filed in the public land records in the Recorder’s office, for the sake of transparency and to make sure that it does not get lost, among other reasons.
Ambiguity as to legal-counsel review: The staff report says that “The MOU and the Lease have been reviewed and approved by legal counsel.” This is a third-party statement and not at all specific. Who reviewed them? What was approved, the form? the content? or both?
If I were voting on these documents, I would want a written statement that an attorney had drafted them, and the name of the attorney. If the documents have been drafted by staff or consultants, I would ask for a first-hand written statement from a named attorney who has reviewed them, saying that in his/her opinion they provide adequate protection for the interests of MPRB and the public.
Thanks very much for your attention.