LACONIA — With Mayor Ed Engler casting the deciding the vote, the City Council on Monday night declined to reconsider its decision to sell the lot the city has leased to Lakeport Landing for the past 30 years to its neighbor and competitor Irwin Marine.
Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) voted against reconsideration while Councilors David Bownes (Ward 2), Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Armand Boluc (Ward (6) voted in favor, leaving the mayor to break the stalemate.
Erica Blizzard, the owner of Lakeport Landing,offered $331,400 for the property in anticipation of the expiration of the long lease on October 31, 2015. Irwin Marine offered $335,000. The city commissioned an appraisal of the property, which set its value at $480,000. Last month City Manager Scott Myers wrote to both parties outlining the conditions of a sale specified by council and asking each to submit their "highest and best offers" in a sealed envelope. Irwin Marine offered $528,000 and Lakeport Landing stuck with its original bid but asked for time to commission a second professional appraisal. When the council met on June 8, councilors discussed the situation privately for almost an hour then voted four-to-two to accept the offer from Irwin Marine.
Two weeks later, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4), who with Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6), voted not to sell to Irwin Marine, asked the council to reconsider its decision.
When the council met Monday Mayor Ed Engler explained that before voting to reconsider its decision two-thirds of the councilors must vote to suspend the rule that requires motions to reconsider be made at the same meeting the vote was taken or by written notice at the next meeting. The council voted unanimously to suspend its rules.
Then, Engler explained, a councilor who voted in the majority when the decision was made must offer a motion to reconsider that vote. Bownes offered the motion, which was seconded by Baer, which again opened general debate on the issue.
Baer reminded her colleagues that on May 26 the council authorized Myers to conduct "informal conversation" with both parties. She added that in his letter to the marinas, which he did not share with the councilors, Myers wrote that it was "not intended to be a comprehensive bid document." Baer said that by soliciting bids, later in the letter, Myers contradicted his instructions from the council and the disclaimer.
Baer also referred to a meeting of the City Council in September, 2005, when The Daily Sun reported that the council granted the late Paul Blizzard, Erica's father, an option or right of first refusal to purchase the lot. "To be fair," she said, "we should give consideration to Lakeport Landing."
Several of those who present at the meeting in 2005 offered their recollection of what action the council took. Judy Krahulec, then a city councilor who chaired the Land and Buildings Subcommittee, said that the council "decided not to sell , but gave him (Blizzard) a first option to buy it." She said "it was voted on" and noted that Blizzard "didn't want it sold to anyone else."
Asked if there was any action taken by the city of Blizzard after the option was granted, Krahulec replied "That was out of our job description." She said she believed that Erica Blizzard, as her father's successor, holds the option.
Mark Fraser, who was mayor in 2005 said that he had "no clear recollection of a right of first refusal" and "certainly do not recall a vote." He stressed that "the votes were not there to sell the property" and "no action was taken other than renewing the lease."
Former Mayor Matt Lahey, who attended the meeting, told the council he "remembered the council voting on an option" and added that he also recalled Bolduc, who served on the council, "carrying the water on that issue."
Hamel, who also served on the council 2005 in place of Rick Judkins who resigned, said he had no recollection of a vote to grant Blizzard an option. Nor, he said, was any action taken to formalize an option. "It should have been taken care of back," he remarked, "and it wasn't."
After making no mention of the option during the 10 months the council has wrestled with the issue, Bolduc, who served on the council in 2005, volunteered that Blizzard was granted an option. "I can't understand why the council has ignored that," he said. "I was in shock. I'm in disbelief. This was not done in the right way."
Whatever occurred in 2005, Engler pointed out that apart from a note in the minutes that a reference to Lakeport Landing was removed from the agenda of the Land and Buildings Committee, the paper trail runs cold. He said there is no record of a resolution to provide a right of first refusal or of a request of the city attorney to draft documents specifying the terms of an option.
Lipman said that this time around council was advised not to negotiate exclusively with one party and that the two bids were "very far apart." He suggested that the council could have negotiated a sale with both parties, but only if the bids were close.
Doyle agreed that "the disparities in the offers was too big to ignore." As for the supposed option, she stressed that "anything that has to do with real estate has to be in writing" and asked "where is the paperwork? I don't know who dropped the ball," she continued "or even if the ball was put in play."
"Not undoing this is the wrong thing to do," insisted Bownes. "Why didn't you bring up the option?' he asked Bolduc, then quickly added "I don't expect an answer.' Remarking that "I'm mindful of all the fuzzy history," he said "I can't ignore the decision of the prior council. Urging the council to vote to reconsider and rescind its earlier decision, he snapped, "that's my two cents."
Aware that he held the deciding vote, Engler said he would not vote to reconsider. He said there was no consensus among the councilors about which of a number of factors was decisive and explained that he believed that Irwin Marine took Myer's letter, particularly its request for "highest and best offers," at face value. When Baer reminded Engler that the council, when instructing Myers, did not mention highest and best offers, he replied "I will not dispute that. But, Irwin took the city manager at his word."
"There is no right with this whole thing," Hamel remarked. "It should be a good neighbor type of thing," he continued. "The other business should let Lakeport Landing remain there."