By Tim Eberly
As he leafed through his organization's five-year rental contract with the city of Havre last week, Clack Foundation vice president Gary Wilson's jaw dropped when he reached the fine print.
Two weeks prior, the Clack Foundation had received its annual $1,000 bill for leasing the Heritage Center, and Wilson intended to freshen up on the terms of the agreement. He was dumbfounded when he read that the contract expired Aug. 31, and that the option to renew should have been exercised 90 days in advance.
"It was a complete shock," Wilson said. "We were completely oblivious. Five years goes by quickly. I called everybody and said, Guess what? We blew it.' "
Once the Clack Foundation members were notified, Wilson called Mayor Phyllis Leonard to inform her of the predicament.
"She laughed and said they'd seen it too," Wilson said. "She said they had recently discovered the same thing."
So at Havre's City Council meeting Monday, Wilson stood before the City Council and requested a new rental contract be negotiated for the Heritage Center. Empathetic, the City Council scheduled a finance committee meeting on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. at City Hall to discuss the issue.
"We'll sit down with them, take a look at the lease and see if we can work something out that is feasible to keep their doors open," said City Council member Tom Farnham, who is also a member of the council's finance committee.
On a monthly basis, the Clack Foundation board members, all volunteers, are preoccupied with the burden of raising enough money to keep the Heritage Center going, leaving little time for anything else, said Wilson. The Heritage Center contains the Clack Museum, a photography workshop, and leased office space.
Also this August, the foundation had to come up with the $15,000 final payment owed to the U.S. Postal Service, which sold the building to the city. Moreover, the Heritage Center costs roughly $5,000 a month to maintain and operate.
"We spend 99 percent of our time raising money to meet our monthly bills, so until we got our bill from the city, no one had looked at our contract recently," Wilson said.
Lifted from the burden of serious debt and now with five years of experience under their belts, the members are relishing the opportunity to create a contract more tailored to the Heritage Center's needs. And the expiration of the contract could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the foundation board.
"When we put this contract together five years ago, no one knew how much it cost to run the Heritage Center," Wilson said. "Now we've been at it for a while. This gives us a chance to analyze the contract. We're starting from scratch."
City Attorney Jim Kaze attended the City Council meeting Monday to clear up confusion regarding the ramifications of the lapsed agreement. Kaze explained that the foundation had entered into a tenancy-at-will situation with the city. In layman's terms, the foundation can occupy the property until the city asks it to leave. However, the city has no plans of exercising that option.
"We don't have any intentions of them moving," Farnham said. "That would be the very last resort."