Arrogance, ignorance and indifference are the words that best describe how the National Park Service tried to justify its actions when it awarded and then administered the July 6, 2007 lease for the Ft. Hancock chapel, theater, and 26 Hudson Street. This lease with Sandy Hook Partners, LLC was made without proper authorization, competition, or public notification.
On 11-30-2010 a meeting was held with the National Park Service, Sandy Hook Unit, of Gateway National Recreation Area. I had asked for an explanation of several disturbing facts that had come to light after I had examined the documents received from my Freedom Of Information Act request to the NPS concerning the July 6, 2007 lease. I had requested Peter McCarthy, Sandy Hook Unit Manager, to have his attorney and the lease administrator present at our meeting, so that all my questions could be addressed.
The NPS chose to have only Barbara Repeta, Financial Business Manager for Gateway National Recreation Area who was currently administering the lease and Mr. McCarthy at our meeting.
The first topic of discussion centered on the NPS insisting that the 7-06-07 lease “was not a contract.” (Try telling your landlord that your lease is not a contract—or for that matter Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary). Though I disagreed vehemently, we pressed on.
The next item I raised was why property and liability insurance coverage was not obtained for the 3 buildings until 9/29/09 for a one year period, when the 07-06-07 lease required that insurance be obtained from its inception. Ms. Repeta said that it was her position that the NPS did not have complete file documentation (no proof that insurance had been obtained prior to 9-29-09), but she and the NPS ASSUMED that Sandy Hook Partners did have the required insurance, even though the NPS could not prove it be so. Lacking said documentation, the NPS was told their belief that SHP had the required insurance was not satisfactory, and would not hold up in a court of law.
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The preceding discussions clearly show the sloppy and unacceptable record keeping that was used to administer this lease. The National Park Service’s contemptible mismanagement style extended to other lease areas which also were discussed, such as:
Rents received from SHP for a three year plus time frame for all three buildings, amounted to less than $15,000.00 total. It turns out that said lease allowed SHP’s rent to be capped at 7% of its income for each month, with no fixed amount stated or due. What happened to the “guaranteed minimum rent” figure that was required? Ms. Repeta said it was not a very good lease because if SHP had no income, no rent was due the Government. How’s that for a “sweet heart deal”?
- How did the NPS satisfy itself that SHP’s income was accurately reported, since the NPS rent payment was dependant upon it? Ms. Repeta said the NPS relied solely on SHP to present its figures accurately. Can you believe that?
- I asked if the NPS trust in SHP income reporting was verified when the NPS audited SHP’s books. Ms. Repeta said the lease did not contain an audit provision, so SHP’s books were NEVER audited by the NPS. At this point, I quoted what President Reagan had said was a prudent principle to follow when he dealt with Russia: “Trust but verify.” But its significance was lost on the NPS.
- When asked about the lease requirement for a reserve fund required of SHP which mandated contributions until the $95,000.00 cap was achieved, Ms. Repeta said that the NPS did not know if any such contributions were made by SHP because the NPS did not have the right to audit their books. I was aghast. How could they not know? They should have demanded proof from Sandy Hook Partners, such as an escrow fund bank statement.
- When asked who in the NPS was responsible for drawing up and agreeing to such a poorly structured lease, Ms. Repeta said former Supt. Richard Wells was believed to have done it.
- When asked why the Default clause had not been invoked sooner than November 24, 2010, given that SHP was often late with rent payments, sometimes several months late, Ms. Repeta said that use of the Default clause was “an option” that the NPS could or could not use at its sole discretion, and she did not have the authority to use it. She said that the decision was solely her supervisor’s right. Even after her supervisor was informed of the late rent situation in writing by Ms. Repeta, no default action was authorized until 11/24/2010. And Ms.Repeta said no record of these earlier discussions existed. How’s that for record keeping?
- I informed her that when a right of the Government is waived and it benefits the “lessee”, such as with rent payments being late, before granting such relief from a lease requirement, the Government administrator must receive a concession that benefits the Government. This appeared to be a novel concept for Ms. Repeta.
- I asked the NPS if SHP still owed the Government money attributable to the terminated lease. Ms Repeta said: “Yes”. When asked “how much”, the NPS refused to state the amount. For this, I was told to file a Freedom Of Information Act request.
- Contrary to recommendations made by Congressmen Pallone and Holt that only “not for profit” entities be allowed to lease Ft. Hancock buildings, Ms Repeta said that the NPS still plans to permit lease(s) with inappropriate, unrelated to recreation, commercial companies.
The preceding points of contention do not cover all the areas of concern that came up in the meeting, but hopefully they provide an eye opening insight into how poorly the supposed stewards of our national parks, the NPS, really operate. I was appalled, and so should you be appalled.
One of the members of our group of five was so disgusted by the lack of professional- ism and concern shown by the NPS employees present, that she said to them: “The assets of Sandy Hook do not belong to you, its supposed stewards. We represent the public, the national park’s rightful owners, and we are upset with your mismanagement and squandering of these assets. The NPS’s improper actions over the past 10 years resulted in SHP being selected for the Ft. Hancock lease, which was recently terminated. This has added 10 more years to the “demolition by neglect” the Ft. Hancock buildings have already suffered under the “stewardship” of the NPS. Yet you show no remorse.”
Peter P. O’Such, Jr.
Fair Haven, New Jersey