UPDATED 3:26 p.m.: City approves concept of agreement with Warren County. Mayor Bruce Wilkerson says no.
EARLIER: Not willing to discuss how negotiations have gone regarding operation of the commercial wrap of the downtown parking garage, much of the talk during today's Bowling Green City Commission meeting centered on how the county would take over responsibility for the project.
Scott Bachert, attorney for the Warren County Downtown Economic Development Authority, said because of the potential for litigation and ongoing negotiations, he wasn't prepared to discuss those negotiations in an open meeting.
Instead, Bachert answered questions about a proposed agreement between the city and county regarding the future of the wrap. That agreement ultimately would give the county the authority to hammer out an agreement between Mills Family Realty, contractors who say they are owed money for the project and a new developer for the project.
Under one proposal, the county would re-issue $30 million in general obligation bonds that would be backed by a lease with the city. Just how the bonds would be guaranteed by the county so the city would have no obligation was not clear.
"We need to at least be comfortable about what we are getting in return," City Manager Kevin DeFebbo said.
DeFebbo said the information was needed so the city could decide if it wanted to go down the road with such "moral hazard."
During the meeting, Mayor Bruce Wilkerson read a lengthy statement that made clear his position on the issue regarding Mills Family Realty and city taxpayers backing the project.
He concluded his statement: "Although my colleagues may have a different opinion of the best route to proceed, it seems as though two competing values come into play:
"One is to find the least expensive route and pursue it. This keeps the loss in taxpayer funds at a minimum.
"The other is legal principle. Do we allow those who have taken funds in violation of the law and other agreements to walk away virtually free from legal action in order to avoid the cost, time and effort of pursuing the legal process?
"We have listened to numerous lawyers and their opinions on this subject. They say this particular resolution probably does not violate the law, nor will it be likely that this be considered a criminal act. But I keep in mind those lawyers are representing other interests – that of creditors or other parties. In fact, the city's attorney and outside counsel have made the same qualified statements, but they represent the city as an entity, not individual members of this body. I am unconvinced of the legality of the resolution. My opinion has not been changed since the discovery of the use of bond proceeds. I cannot see how it can be legal for the city to use public money to cover what appears to be an illegal use of funds without concurrent legal action taken against the parties who appear to have violated the statutes.
"With regard to this particular resolution, I applaud my colleagues for their determined focus on trying to address this situation with as little exposure to the general fund as possible. I will support the majority of the commission in its decision, even if different from mine."
After nearly two hours of meeting, the commission has taken a break.