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Largo city commissioners disagree on next step for Bookmark Cafe

Dalal Mansour is the independent owner of the Bookmark Cafe inside the Largo Public Library. She wants to renew her city contract.

SCOTT KEELER | Times (2009)

Dalal Mansour is the independent owner of the Bookmark Cafe inside the Largo Public Library. She wants to renew her city contract.

LARGO — Some residents and commissioners are unhappy with the way the Bookmark Cafe inside the city's public library is operated by its independent owner, Dalal Mansour.

Other locals and lawmakers praise both her food and service.

And as such, the City Commission is split on what to do about extending Mansour's contract — for five years, one or none at all.

Commissioners directed city staff on Tuesday to begin drawing a one-year contract with Mansour, though the term could change before they vote on the final terms.

On Thursday, Commissioner Mary Gray Black asked for a five-year extension be put to vote at the City Commission meeting Tuesday.

Commissioners Gigi Arntzen, Curtis Holmes, Harriet K. Crozier and Vice Mayor Woody Brown indicated they would rather put the cafe contract out for a bid than renew the existing agreement.

Their reasons include more than two dozen complaints from customers over the past two years, expressing dissatisfaction with Mansour's attitude and her food quality.

"We observed rudeness and curtness to the customers. We witnessed hurtful remarks to teens," wrote Largo High School teacher Sharon Feldhake in a complaint.

Feldhake had taken her class on a library tour, and wrote that Mansour treated her students poorly when they visited the cafe.

"It disturbs me that when you are in the public eye, you are not being courteous at all times," Crozier said.

Commissioners Black and Robert Murray, along with Mayor Patricia Gerard, have said it's only fair that Mansour receives some kind of extension.

"I will maintain that the way we notified her for her failure to notify us left the door open for this one. It was poorly worded in the first place. I think we have some legitimate issues there," said Gerard. "The public seems to be relatively happy. We've gotten a lot of positive comments about her, too."

The cause for the debate arose last fall, after Mansour failed to renew her contract with the city by the Sept. 26 deadline for an additional five-year term.

She did contact the city as soon as she realized the deadline had passed, after she received a letter from Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert dated Oct. 7.

"Is it correct for me to assume that you do not wish to renew the agreement with the city?" Schubert wrote.

She thought it was only a matter of time before her renewal went through. Instead, Mansour said, she was notified that the city would be seeking a new owner, and that she had until June 23 to vacate the cafe.

At a March 2 meeting, commissioners told staff to hold off on seeking new proposals while a new contract is negotiated, rather than just renewing Mansour's existing one.

"I think this is a gotcha. I think we wanted to put this out to bid, therefore we weren't a very courteous landlord," Gerard said at that meeting.

Former Largo commissioner Rodney Woods, who said he frequents the cafe, said it appears that there has been some interest in asking for other requests for proposals.

"I don't believe that the big picture issue is that Ms. Mansour is a couple days late with notification. That's really not a big deal. I don't think that's the main thing," Woods said. "Through the rumor mill, I think there's an entity affiliated with the city of Largo that is interested in taking over that cafe. If they want to do that, that's fine and well — they should just be straight up with the current person in there."

In the past, the Greater Largo Library Foundation has made attempts to take over ownership of the cafe. In 2007, the foundation offered Mansour $20,000 in cash to take over her contract, which she declined.

Scott Thompson, the foundation's chief executive officer, said his organization still has an interest in acquiring the cafe.

"If it did go out to an RFP (request for proposal), we would bid," Thompson said. "We're just looking for revenue-generating sources for the foundation."

Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or dtao@sptimes.com.

Largo city commissioners disagree on next step for Bookmark Cafe 03/13/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 5:31pm]
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