St. Paul City Council approves controversial $800,000 settlement with Como Park cafe

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 28, 2014 - 3:49 PM

One council member was outraged as deal with Black Bear Crossings cafe was approved.

St. Paul City Council Member Dan Bostrom said that the city parks director should lose his job in the wake of an $800,000 settlement approved Wednesday for a Como Park cafe that charged the city with breach of contract.

Bostrom was the sole dissenter in the 5-1 City Council vote, which ratified an agreement reached last week between the city and David and Pamela Glass, who have run their Black Bear Crossings cafe and banquet business at the Como Pavilion since 2000.

Under terms of the settlement, the third largest in the city’s history, neither side could comment and both sides denied wrongdoing.

The settlement resolution had been placed on the consent agenda, made up of items that typically pass without debate. Bostrom, usually unflappable but practically sputtering with outrage, wasn’t about to let that happen.

“I just find it totally unacceptable to pay out this kind of money on something like this, with the citizens being totally in the dark as to how we got there,” he said. “In all my years here, I haven’t seen anything like this at all.”

City Attorney Sara Grewing, called into the council chambers to explain but constrained by the terms of the settlement, said only that it was “in the city’s best legal interest to resolve this case at this time.”

Council Member Chris Tolbert, who is an attorney, said he shared Bostrom’s “frustration and disgust” with the settlement. But he said he would vote for it because it was “the most fiscally responsible thing for us to do.”

“Unfortunately, because we breached a contract, we can settle now or go to trial,” he said.

After the meeting, Bostrom made it clear that he blamed two people for the situation: Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm and Council Member Amy Brendmoen, who confirmed publicly last week that they are romantically involved.

Neither was present for Wednesday’s vote; Brendmoen was in Copenhagen on a public policy tour paid for by the Knight Foundation, and Hahm was on vacation.

In an e-mail last year, David Glass said that his Como Park business had gotten “nothing but praise” from parks officials until they were visited by Brendmoen, who represents the Como area. Brendmoen, he said, “told us … they weren’t sure if we were meeting the public purpose and the parks director said they wanted to do a review.”

Last November, Glass was told that the city would not be extending their Como Park lease because they weren’t making enough money and refused to agree to future revenue benchmarks.

The Glasses sued the city for breach of contract. In July, a Ramsey County judge ruled that they were eligible for damages from the city, although she declined to force the city to extend their lease.

Bostrom said Wednesday that the settlement vote should have been delayed until Brendmoen was present to answer questions. After the meeting, he added, “Mike Hahm should be long gone because of this.”

“If they’re going to have a relationship, that’s their business,” he said. “However, when something like this develops in his department, and she had been in contact with the vendor, that’s what I see as the major problem with this whole thing.”

Tonya Tennessen, a spokeswoman for Mayor Chris Coleman, called Hahm “a great director and city employee who will continue to lead the department.”

She added: “There is uncertainty in any litigation, and each time the city settles a case, we review practices and procedures to see what we can do better. We continue to be confident that we can maximize the facility at Como Pavilion to offer exceptional service to residents and visitors.”

In other action Wednesday, the council:

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