WATERTOWN — A state Supreme Court judge is slated to hear arguments Thursday on three motions for summary judgment in a lawsuit over the city’s lease with the Watertown Golf Club.
The city is the latest to file a summary judgment motion in the case brought by Ives Hill Country Club, essentially arguing that the basic facts of the case are not in dispute and Judge James P. McClusky has all the information needed to decide the case in its favor based on the law. Ives Hill and the golf club have previously filed similar motions.
Ives Hill, which is owned by developer P.J. Simao, contends that two leases entered into by the city with Watertown Golf Club should be voided because former Mayor Joseph M. Butler Sr. had a prohibited conflict of interest when he signed the leases, signing one in 2000 as mayor while also holding an ownership share in the club and signing a second in 2006 as club president after leaving office.
The city maintains that Mr. Butler properly disclosed his interest in the club and abstained from voting on the 2000 lease, curing any conflict of interest that allegedly arose. At the time, Mr. Butler owned a single share of the club’s stock, although he was a member of the club’s board of directors. Mr. Butler signed the lease, as mayor, at the direction of the City Council. The city claims that, even if a conflict of interest occurred, it is “inconsequential” given Mr. Butler’s minimal stake in the club.
In 2006, after Mr. Butler had left office, he signed a second lease as president of the club’s board of directors. By then, his ownership stake in the club had risen from less than 1 percent of the club’s outstanding shares to 6 percent. The city argues that it held a lease with the club for decades before Mr. Butler bought his initial lone share in the club in 1976, which was seven years before the state enacted a statute formally enabling the city to lease designated parkland in Thompson Park. After the statute was enacted in 1983, the city reached lease agreements with the club in 1985 and again in 1990, both before Mr. Butler became mayor.
The state legislation gave the City Council the ability to lease the property on terms and conditions it “shall deem in the interest of the city,” which the city contends has been the case with the lease as it provides a benefit to the city through lease payments, increased tax revenue and increased travel to the area by patrons of the golf club, who also become patrons of other businesses in the city.
Should Judge McClusky rule that Mr. Butler had a prohibited conflict when he signed the 2000 lease, thus voiding that agreement, the issue will turn to whether the 2006 agreement was a lease modification or extension, as Ives Hill contends, or a separate and distinct contract, as the city claims. If the 2000 lease is voided, there would be no legal basis to modify or extend it, according to Ives Hill, while the 2006 contract can stand on its own and remain the controlling document if it is determined that it is a separate contract from the 2000 agreement, according to the city. The 2006 lease runs through Dec. 31, 2029, and presently requires the golf club to make annual lease payments of $9,318 for use of 66 acres of city-owned land, an amount Mr. Simao claims is below fair market rates and represents a subsidy from the city for his competitor.
Since litigation began in November, the golf club has sold its assets to Watertown developer Michael E. Lundy. It is envisioned that the club’s lease with the city would be transferred to Mr. Lundy.