It was announced as a done deal. After years of wrangling, two lawsuits, backroom deals and broached agreements, the city and the Scouts had a deal on the table.
Last Wednesday, City Solicitor Shelley Smith and Cradle of Liberty attorney Sandra Girifalco announced they had an agreement that “resolves the lawsuit, saves the City $1 million and gives the Scouts the opportunity to buy the headquarters they have been in for 80 years.”
The statement continued, “We understand an ordinance regarding the sale of the building will be introduced in City Council on Thursday, Nov. 18.”
Except the councilmember apparently expected to undertake that task, Darrell Clarke, introduced neither an ordinance nor a resolution. Clarke, whose district encompasses the building that the Scouts council occupies, isn’t on board with the proposed settlement yet.
Neither are the LGBT activists who have repeatedly asked the city to end its decades-old agreement that allows the Scouts to stay in the building at 231-251 N. 22nd St. free of charge.
Essentially, activists argue, allowing the Scouts to stay in the building rent-free rewards them for violating the city’s nondiscrimination law. Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Scouts, as a private group, could exclude gays and atheists. But that doesn’t mean the city is required to subsidize their bad behavior and forego potential income.
The settlement announced by the city solicitor and the Scouts attorney said the Cradle of Liberty would move any traditional Scouting activities out of the building within three months and they agreed on a purchase price of $1.1 million, discounted to $500,000 if the Scouts purchase in 2012 or $600,000 if they purchase in 2013. If the Scouts do not buy the property by 2013, they agreed to vacate it. The discounted price was based on the Scouts asking for nearly $1 million in legal fees, on which the judge has not yet ruled.
One of the more interesting occurrences in the wake of this case has been how the mainstream media has reported on it. More than one media outlet reported the (now-stalled) agreement as a done deal. More than one media outlet has spread the fallacy that the Scouts pay $1 a year in rent (there is no dollar figure in the original 1928 ordinance, and no record of any payments, ever). Media outlets have also reported that a jury ruled in favor of the Scouts earlier this year, a half-truth. Yes, the jury found in favor of the Scouts in one of the counts it considered, and found in favor of the city in the other two. And finally, media outlets have perpetuated the idea that the city owes the Scouts some $900,000 in legal fees, which the judge hasn’t actually ruled on yet, as he was waiting to see if the two sides could come to an agreement.
The city negotiated a settlement that appears to assume that it lost the lawsuit with the Boy Scouts, which isn’t the case.
The two sides need to return to the negotiating table and consider having a more transparent process — so they can reach an agreement the community, the neighborhood and city government can support.