July 24, 2014

Medina
Partly sunny
62°F

Seville food pantry to close its doors

SEVILLE — A lease for the new Seville Community Food Pantry was signed a year ago Tuesday, but there won’t be any anniversary celebration.

Pantry director Courtney Harlan said the pantry is being forced to close.

Courtney Harlan, director of the Seville Community Food Pantry, 6 Spring St., stands by a sign he fastened to the front of the pantry on Thursday announcing it will close Tuesday. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DANI ORR)

Courtney Harlan, director of the Seville Community Food Pantry, 6 Spring St., stands by a sign he fastened to the front of the pantry on Thursday announcing it will close Tuesday. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DANI ORR)

“I’m packing up,” Harlan said Thursday.

The pantry, part of an outreach program through Seville United Methodist Church, signed a one-year lease on Sept. 20, 2010, for $1 to the village.

“It’s been a real interesting ride since then,” Harlan said.

Harlan said a number of issues have cropped up in the year, including a severe mold problem in the basement, no hot water and no adequate drains.

Those things are now the least of Harlan’s worries.

When the one-year agreement runs out, there will be no renewal.

The pantry, which had been open three days a week, is responsible for all utilities in the building at 6 Spring St., but the bulk of Harlan’s concern rests on an indemnity clause, or a hold-harmless clause, that makes the “renter” responsible for any damages in or on the leased property.

The clause holds the pantry, and ultimately the church, responsible for anything pertaining to the “structure or the system of the building.”

The Rev. Jim Woodring of Seville United Methodist Church said the clause also is referred to as a “slumlord clause.”

“They pulled one past us the first time a year ago, but as the mold issue became evident, we started to ask questions to our insurance provider and that brought focus upon the clause,” he said. “It got by a year ago, but our insurance company ultimately says they will not cover something so broad after discovering the clause. If something were to happen, it would come out of the assets of the church … it’s never (the village).”

Harlan said Village Council was against writing a new contract without the clause.

On Monday, two contracts were put before Council — one containing the clause and one without. Only the contract with the clause was voted on, and it passed 4-2 with emergency language.

Council members approving the contract with the clause were Barb Schwartz, Kathy Rhoads, Roger Kilgore and Rich Barbera. Against were Jim Lovejoy and Rick Stallard.

“I voted to keep the clause because it is in the best interest of the village,” Rhoads said. “The pantry is a great organization and the last thing I want to see is it close, but my primary responsibility is to the residents, and I can’t allow the risk without the clause if something were to happen. It’s basically a protection. I am a huge supporter of the pantry, and I know they are very upset with me right now because of my vote, but I did not mean for it to happen like this. They feel the risk is small, but that may not necessarily be the case.”

Schwartz agreed.

“Our first order of business as Council is not about the value of the food pantry, but about protecting the village. With that said, we are not against the pantry as a Council. I don’t pretend to speak for anyone on Council, but not one of us wants to see it close,” she said. “I feel that a lawsuit could be devastating to the village, and I just can’t put the residents at risk like that and allow it to fall into their laps.”

Stallard said he’s comfortable with taking the risk.

“Even if the clause is removed, we still have insurance coverage as a village, and the pantry would still have their own insurance coverage. I am willing to take that risk,” he said. “What the clause ultimately does is protect us from things beyond what our coverage will cover. We’re renting it to the pantry for them to conduct a service to the village, and I’m OK with taking that in front of a judge. I think the whole thing is very upsetting. … I see the service that it provides, and I think we’re fortunate to have it. If it comes with some risk, I can live with it.

“I would like to see it go back to Council and to see us work it out somehow. It’s a shame that it got this far, and I hope that there’s something we can do to fix it,” Stallard added.

Harlan said he would like to see Council revisit the issue.

“We have a group of 75 to 80 volunteers that give their time here. We served 155 families last month in the Cloverleaf School District. All together that’s 460 people, and it’s not just individuals who are unemployed and can’t find work — it’s those that are working at minimum wage and just can’t by,” he said.

“We have a due diligence to serve our community and it’s a real shame that we won’t be able to do that come Sept. 20 — unless Council votes one more time and allows us to operate without the clause,” Harlan said.

“It’s the people’s building — not Council’s — and quite frankly they don’t know the need,” he added. “We were building something here so worthwhile, and most of Council could care less.”

Contact Dani Orr at (330) 721-4049 or dorr@medina-gazette.com.