Dec 18 2017

City to Become Landlord for Piedmont Post Newspaper

Newspaper had already received pre-approval from City Administrator for a sublease of the public property at 801 Magnolia that houses the Piedmont Center for the Arts.

At the December 18, 2017  Council meeting starting at approximately 10:00 p.m., the Piedmont Center for the Arts was given approval of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) allowing space to be sublet to one local news organization, The Piedmont Post. The Council approval was on a narrow vote of 3 for and 2 against.

Voting for the motion to approve were Mayor Robert McBain, who praised the newspaper, Vice Mayor Teddy King, who was eager for  approval, and Council Member Betsy Andersen, the newly appointed member of the Council, who inquired about the hours of operation.

Voting “no” on the motion to approve the CUP were Council Member Tim Rood, who had noted his disapproval of the Post and Jen Cavenaugh, who had many lingering unanswered questions regarding the lease and potential of gifting valuable city resources to a business.

Unbeknownst to the public, and evidently, the Council,  City Administrator Paul Benoit had already given permission to the Arts Center to sublet their space to the Post if approval of a Conditional Use Permit was granted by the Council.  Benoit stepped into the Council discussion supporting the Post’s usage of the building.

Numerous questions went unanswered: basis of the lease to the Arts Center’s ability to sublet or use the City’s property at 801 Magnolia for profit businesses, while denying non-profit usage, ability of City Administrator to grant permission to sublet the property without public involvement, hours of operation, unknown sublease conditions, amongst other matters.

The City Code and lease were recently changed by the Council to allow businesses in the Arts Center building.

4 Responses to “City to Become Landlord for Piedmont Post Newspaper”

  1. City Staff, Mayor McBain and Planning Comm.(“PC”) Chair Ramsey all stated that the Post Conditional Use Permit “Should not be decided based on the content of the Piedmont Post.” This statement acknowledges the Post’s free speech rights to editorialize and print biased content. The PC made a finding that the Post primarily serves Piedmont residents because “The Piedmont Post . . . provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and public engagement.” Therefore, it is relevant to examine the Post’s role as a forum. A forum is “A medium (such as a newspaper or online service) of open discussion or expression of ideas.” As many have been denied access to the Post by their letters going unpublished, the Post is not a forum by any reasonable, equitable and commonly understood definition.

    By providing space in public property for this single media entity, an entity that by all accounts is too closely aligned with City Hall, the City is supporting and providing a false forum where all residents will not be treated equally and equitably. The forum will be controlled and manipulated by the Post’s Publisher. That is bad government.

  2. Everything about this is WRONG! And disturbing!

  3. Piedmont Center for the Arts'(PCA) lease with the city requires that it obtain written approval (not pre-approval) of the “landlord” before subleasing space. Whether that approval had been obtained by PCA before it’s Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application was not established last night (to my ears anyway), but the City Administrator did say that with CUP approval, subtenant approval seemed settled. That has it backwards – the point of lease terms is to give the city some discretion and oversight into what subtenants are brought into this public building. Using the CUP process applies the lowest of hurdles and ducks the question of whether the subtenant is acceptable. Judging by the comments and public testimony at the hearings, the Post is not.

    Comments last night revealed that:

    -PCA will not sublet to non-profits that are not arts-based. It’s mission is to promote the arts in Piedmont so it seeks like-minded groups to share the building. It will now sublet to a [recently resigned] Board member for $1300/month.

    -According to the Mayor, PUSD is ok with this. There were two comment letters in the public record from a current and past School Board member opposed to the application.

  4. PUSD appears not so ok with this. There is an opposition letter in the packet to Council from current PUSD board member Amal Smith. There was also a 2015 letter signed by all PUSD Board members forwarded to Council which is sharply critical of the Piedmont Post’s reporting of the District.

    I commented Monday night that when coming on board, Paul Benoit did the right thing by introducing himself in a spirit of cooperation to the School Board. Now I fear that cooperation will be diminished.

    The President and Vice-President of the Art Center spoke in support as did Chair of the Budget Finance Advisory Board, Bill Hosler. But with so much community outrage at this, why were there only two speakers in opposition Monday night? Council in a rare 3-2 vote narrowly passed this and perhaps the swing vote might have been better informed with more present?

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