Public service

Having been a public servant, I know firsthand how some members of the public (oftentimes lawyers) view the “servant” part literally and treat us accordingly. So I should have been better prepared for town attorney Ralph Karpinos’ disingenuous response to my e-mail.

Months ago, I sought an answer to a simple question: What would it cost the town to back out of the 140 West Franklin contract?

I asked that question in an e-mail to town manager Roger Stancil, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Karpinos. The two lawyers — Kleinschmidt and Karpinos — did not respond. Stancil passed the request to his assistant who sent me links to 140 West Franklin documents from the previous Town Council meeting with a chipper “Hope this helps.”

I sent him an e-mail back, explaining that I’d already looked at those documents and they didn’t address the issue. I repeated my question. He ignored my reply and a follow-up e-mail.

On Monday, I sent another e-mail to Karpinos, again asking: “Do you know whether the town has to reimburse Ram Development for Ram’s investment in 140 West Franklin if the town backs out of the deal? Is there an escape clause for the town?”

Here is his response, verbatim: “This office is not in a position to respond to your question. You may wish to consult your own attorney for an opinion on this document. As noted on the page for the Town Attorney’s office on the Town’s website: The primary responsibility of the Town Attorney is the protection of the legal interests of the Town of Chapel Hill. The Town Attorney serves as general counsel to the Town and provides advice to the Mayor and Council, Town Boards and Commissions, Town Administration and Town Departments. The Town Attorney’s Office cannot give legal advice or provide legal representation to private citizens.”

I forwarded Karpinos’ e-mail to Kleinschmidt, asking him what his understanding of the town’s liability was in the 140 West Franklin project. Because I did not hear back from him that day, I buttonholed him after the Town Council meeting that night.

He was gracious and gave a very simple answer: The town can’t back out. It’s not a matter of money; once the town agrees to a development deal, it can’t simply change its mind. The deal will go through unless Ram does not meet its deadlines, and the General Assembly recently gave a blanket three-year extension to all special-use permits, due to the sour economy.

I was satisfied with his answer, and when I commented to him on Karpinos’ lack of people skills, Kleinschmidt gave a what-can-you-expect shrug and said, “He’s a lawyer.”

Then he hastened to add, “I’m a different kind of lawyer.”

— Nancy Oates

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  1. I wouldn’t be so satisfied with that answer Nancy. There is a difference between the contract the Town signed and the permitting granted RAM. Mark well knows the conditions that our consultant lawyers laid out for dropping Lot #5. The Council has extended the deal over and over. The legal consultants were quite clear that the Town could back out if the project didn’t start on time – many on this Council continued to extend those deadlines in the face of RAM’s failure to start.

    In any case, if the Town backs out, for whatever reason, its going to probably end up in court. Better, though, to do that, then to make an incredible mistake on Lot #5 (cheaper in the end also).

    Please keep digging on this.

  2. I don;t know who does SqueezeThePulp anymore but I saw this article that does a great timeline of the Lot 5 project and makes the same point I did about the difference between our contractual obligations and the SUP deadline being extended.

    (back up one article)

    It really bothers me that the two issues – the contractual obligations and the building permit extension continue to be disingenuously conflated to make an apparent case that the Town has to move forward. Quite clearly it doesn’t .

    Please keep digging Nancy, the smoke being blown in your direction needs the strong wind of investigative journalism to clear it away.

  3. Bob

     /  March 11, 2010

    Nancy, This is nonsense from two lawyers who are apparently accustomed to blowing smoke. The permits issue isn’t the issue you asked, and if the lawyer mayor doesn’t know this, it says more about his professional competence or his willingness to answer a simple, straight question with a simple, straight answer than anything else. Contracts are often broken, renegotiated, amended, and so forth. This contract is no more or less special. Hold your nose while digging…..there is more manure ahead I believe.

  4. Runner

     /  March 11, 2010

    I’ll tell you why the town is going through with the lot #5 project, UNC wants it to happen. Go ahead and gripe all you want, but it aint gonna change a thing.

  5. Bill

     /  March 12, 2010

    Here is the direct link to the pulp story. I love how the developer is paying NO TAXES. More progressive economic development!

  6. Bill

     /  March 12, 2010

    Now THIS is a good story on RAM development and their backing out of a deal in Florida:

    Seems like Chapel Hill could back out if they wanted to.