When Chris Seaberg, town manager, was reporting to the Swansboro Board of Commissioners on the status of the town’s five lease agreements, one caught the ear of the panel.

Swansboro owns and leases five separate properties in town. (See related story, page 2.) All must be updated annually. His report came at the board meeting of Monday, June 22. While the mayor and three of the commissioners were meeting in town hall, Commissioners Laurent Meilleur and Frank Tursi chose to participate remotely via the online Zoom platform.

The chamber rents 203 Church St., which is also known as the Swansboro Visitor Center.

In explaining the status of the lease the town has in place for the Swansboro Area Chamber of Commerce, Seaberg said the chamber’s rent is in arrears.

Tursi asked Seaberg to be more specific.

“They have paid up through March,” Seaberg said.

The manager further explained that he has been in discussion with chamber officials about the past due rent.

“They’re requesting a waiver for April,” Seaberg said. And, he added they have also asked a portion of the May rent, about $230, be forgiven.

As for the lack of available funding, Seaberg said, “They are blaming it on COVID and the COVID issues.”

Meilleur, after hearing that the chamber had received PPP funds, said the money from the government is designed to cover rent and utilities. Noting that he is familiar with the program, he expressed surprise that the chamber did not have money available.

Tursi – who has been known to frequent another of the town-owned properties, Cedro De Azmar, which is owned by Georges El-Asmar – said the chamber should be held accountable.

“Why do we treat the chamber any differently than we would treat Georges?” Tursi asked. “If he gets three months behind, I’d say we throw him out on his butt.”

Cliff Parson, the town attorney, said the town would have to follow steps to evict the chamber.

“We have to declare them to be in default,” he explained. That would happen through a formal notification of a specific due date. “We have to declare them to be in default before you can kick them out.”

Tursi was cautious about putting Seaberg in a position that would force him to deliver the bad news to the chamber. But he was adamant that something needed to be done.

“In my view, we just can’t allow them to continue,” Tursi said.

Mayor John Davis suggested taking a deliberate approach.

“We need to give them the chance to resolve it,” he said.

Commissioner Larry Philpott agreed.

“Let’s give the manager an opportunity to work through this,” Philpott said. “But they made a legal contract and they need to own up to it.”

Seaberg said he would attempt to resolve the matter by the end of this week.

“I have been in contact with the chamber’s executive director to discuss their requests,” he said.

The SACC and the town signed the most recent lease agreement for 203 Church St. before the end of December, after being approved by the commissioners, Seaberg states in his June 22 memo to the commissioners.

“Instructions provided was for staff to establish a one-year agreement with the understanding that discussions take place on the chamber providing staffing on the weekends to qualify for the suggested discounts ($177.88 per month),” the memo states. “An initial meeting between myself Executive Director Mike McHugh took place on Dec. 23, 2019. Correspondences after December have been through email … mostly due to shelter in place mandates.”

Seaberg explains that he found that the Swansboro Tourism Development Authority – according to minutes from the TDA’s April 12, 2012, meeting – wanted the Swansboro Visitor Center staffed on weekends and holidays. “In their discussion with contracting with the chamber for marketing, the minutes state, ‘If agreeable, the authority would pay the chamber office, who would hire staff to run the office during the peak times …’

“The meeting minutes express the need for a signed contract between both entities but staff cannot find if that took place or not,” Seaberg’s memo to the commissioners states.

In addition to forgiveness of the April rent May reduction the chamber is asking for a monthly rate of $200 from June through December, according to the memo.

“They further request the town to consider the rental agreement to be month-to-month versus an obligation through the end of 2020,” according to Seaberg’s memo. The chamber would like the terms and lease amount to remain through 2021.

 For more on this story, purchase a copy of the June 24, 2020, Tideland News.

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy@tidelandnews.com.

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