City, county officials at odds over courthouse lease

Thursday, September 2, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Quotations from emails included in this report have not been edited for spelling, grammar or punctuation.

The City of Eureka Springs’ arrangement for leasing office space in the Carroll County Western District Courthouse has been a source of disagreement recently between city and county officials.

Carroll County Judge Sam Barr and County Clerk Connie Doss say there hasn’t been an executed contract spelling out the terms of the agreement since Jan. 1, 2020. Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry and his administrative assistant Kim Stryker contend that there is an up-to-date contract in place.

Doss provided a copy of a contract filemarked in the clerk’s office on Jan. 13, 2017. That agreement, signed by Barr, Berry, Eureka Springs City Clerk Ann Armstrong and then-County Clerk Jamie Correia and notarized by Stryker, is a three-year lease effective Jan. 1, 2017, with a mutual option to renew the agreement annually. It sets the monthly lease amount for the 2,062 square feet on the lowest level of the courthouse at $1,649.60 — equal to 80 cents per square foot. The county agreed to pay $20,340 toward salary and other expenses for a city maintenance employee responsible for the rented space.

Doss said she recently discovered that the 2017 contract had never been renewed.

“I don’t have a contract recorded, and I have to go by what’s recorded,” she said on Wednesday, Aug. 25.

Berry didn’t return an email inquiry or messages left on his cell phone and Stryker’s office voice mail before press time but a series of emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request sheds some light on the city’s stance on the issue.

In an email time-stamped at 10:46 a.m. Monday, Aug. 9, Berry writes Carroll County prosecuting attorney Tony Rogers: “Attached are the existing least. Item 7, 2nd paragraph has to do with maintenance with is what we are tring to resolve. I am also going to send you the email that started this all off that refers to the maintenance. I suggested to the Judge last week that I would be willing to go back to the original lease and pay our portion of the maintenance and cleaning as per the original lease. He said he tried to keep the new lease simple but yet the same as the old. Which it is not.”

Attached was a resolution approved by the Eureka Springs City Council on Nov. 25, 2019. That document is signed by Berry and Armstrong and filemarked in the county clerk’s office on Jan. 12, 2021. Also attached was an unsigned, undated “lease agreement” for a five-year lease beginning Jan. 1, 2020, with a mutual option for annual renewal. The document calls for the city to pay monthly rent of $2,062 — one dollar per square foot — and for the county to pay between $19,000 and $21,000 a year toward wages and expenses for a maintenance employee.

In an email time-stamped at 5:13 p.m. the same day, Stryker writes Doss and copies Barr, Berry, Rogers and Eureka Springs city attorney Tim Weaver. Stryker attaches copies of the undated, unsigned “lease agreement” and the resolution approved by city council that she says were filed in the county clerk’s office in early December 2019.

“Per our conversation just now, you said that Rhonda from Judge Barr’s office indicated to you that she did not have a copy of the City Hall lease on her computer early last year (2020),” Stryker writes, apparently referring to Barr’s assistant Ronda Griffin. “You also did not have a copy of the City Hall lease on your computer, and so you recreated a new lease agreement and sent this to Rhonda in Judge Barr’s office. Rhonda sent this ‘new lease’ to our attention and asked us to enter into this new agreement. We noted to the County Judge that the new revised lease had the city being responsible for paying for the half of the upstairs maintenance cost and the city also being responsible for the downstairs maintenance. We responded to this request with a copy of our current City Hall lease and Resolution in effect and a proposed revision to the lease that was submitted.

“I am copying Rhonda and Judge Barr on this communication, as well as County Prosecutor Tony Roberts and City Attorney Tim Weaver. There is a persistent belief that the City of Eureka Springs is currently operating without a lease for our office space on the lower level of the Western Carroll County Courthouse. This is an inaccurate belief.”

Rogers responded in an email time-stamped at 10:05 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10.

“Kim: I don’t see a valid lease in your email,” Rogers writes. “It is not even signed by the parties. A resolution by the ES city council doesn’t bind the county.”

At 11:28 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11, Doss emailed Stryker, writing: “My understanding is Tony Rogers is drawing up another lease. The current copy is incorrect and will not be signed by the judge.” Doss then instructs Stryker to contact Barr’s office with any further questions.

Berry responded to Doss’ email at 1:34 p.m. the same day.

“I’m not sure what you mean by the ‘current’ copy is incorrect,” he writes. “I did inform Tony Rogers of the fact that we are in agreement with utilizing the upstair maintenance person for our maintenance and cleaning downstairs, similar to the same work that Don Matt provided.”

Barr’s office provided a copy of the proposed lease that was given to Berry. The proposal is for a five-year lease at $2,062 per month, with a mutual option to extend the agreement annually. It calls for the county to employ a custodian for the second and third floors, where county offices and the courtroom are located, with the city employing a custodian for the first floor, where city offices would remain.

Barr said he can approve the lease without a vote of the county’s quorum court. The Eureka Springs City Council would need to approve the agreement.

Rogers declined to comment on the record. Barr and Berry met on Thursday, Aug. 12. Asked if he believes the matter will be resolved, Barr said: “I hope so.”

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