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Pinellas child services board pays off tenant to move out

PINELLAS PARK — A countywide board that oversees children's services has a problem that many landlords face — how to get rid of a tenant.

For the Juvenile Welfare Board, the answer was simple, if irksome: Pay the tenant to go away.

So last week JWB board members voted to write a $140,000 check to WorkNet Pinellas.

In return, WorkNet has said it will be out of the JWB building at 4140 49th St. N by Oct. 31.

If WorkNet runs into a snag, it would have an additional 45 days to vacate the building. A WorkNet board's vote to accept the deal would conclude months of negotiations between the two agencies.

WorkNet Pinellas signed a three-year lease with the JWB in April 2005. The lease contained a clause allowing WorkNet to extend the term through April 2010 if it chose.

JWB executive director Gay Lancaster called WorkNet in January 2007 to tell officials there that her board had voted to sell the building and other JWB property.

Lancaster asked what WorkNet would need in order to vacate the building. WorkNet reportedly said it wanted six months' notice.

Sometime last summer, the R'Club offered $2.5-million for the building but said it had to be vacant before the sale took place. JWB passed the information to WorkNet.

"They know we've had that contract probably for a year," said Cindy Bell, director of facilities management for JWB. "We've given them plenty of notice."

But instead of packing up, WorkNet sent the JWB a letter in December saying it wanted to exercise its option of extending the contract until the end of April 2010.

Bill Griffiths, the WorkNet spokesman, did not return a phone message asking for comment.

Lancaster and others at JWB were stunned at the news. They immediately began negotiating to get WorkNet out of the building so the R'Club could buy it. Lancaster told JWB board members last week that it appears the two agencies have finally reached a deal.

JWB board members were not only irked by WorkNet's actions, they also questioned the origin of the lease. The board had never approved it even though it involved a lot of money — $237,500 a year in rent for the first three years and a slight increase if WorkNet exercised the option.

Lancaster told board members that the JWB's former executive director, Jim Mills, had signed many contracts without board approval. That's something, Lancaster said later, that has changed since she took over. The JWB board now has a rule that it must approve any contract in excess of $25,000.

Pinellas child services board pays off tenant to move out 07/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2008 3:24pm]
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