The Kennewick City Council is willing to pay $2,467,738 to settle its lawsuit with the former operator of the Columbia Park Golf Course.
The council voted unanimously -- albeit with three reticent members -- Tuesday night to make the offer to Gary Long Jr. in an effort to end the protracted case that has seen the$3 million judgment grow by more than $650,000 in accrued interest during the past 18 months.
Nicholas Kovarik, the Spokane attorney who represented Long in the Benton County Superior Court jury trial, told the Herald in aphone call after the council's meeting that he would have to see if Long would accept the offer.
"I can say it is far less than what their last offer was," he said.
Kovarik said Kennewick's city manager, Marie Mosley, and city attorney Lisa Beaton suggested in an email Monday that the council might approve paying $2.5 million.
But Kovarik believes the council stayed with the lower amount of$2.4 million, which was presented in negotiations a week ago when the council met in a closed-door session to discuss the lawsuit settlement.
Tuesday's offer from the city was a surprise addition, as a new business item, on the council's agenda.
Mayor Steve Young made the motion to present the offer to Long, and Sharon Brown, mayor pro tem, seconded.
"This has been a very difficult time. It is not easy to come to a solution to hard problems," Young said.
"I don't agree with the judges' decision, but we need to move on with the business of the city. This is a fair settlement," Young said.
Councilman Paul Parish didn't agree with the figure, calling it too high.
"I will support this, but I don't believe they negotiated in good faith," he said.
Councilman Bob Olson said he would support the motion, but only if the city could be done with the whole matter and have Long paid off by the end of April.
Councilman Bob Parks resented the way the Tri-City Herald involved the public in a discussion about what the city should do to resolve the expensive lawsuit.
"There never was a legal contract (with Long)," Parks insisted, adding, "but we have to cut our losses."
Councilmen John Hubbard and Don Britain said they appreciated seeing the council take a vote in public on offering to settle the case.
"I appreciate we can finally do this in an open forum. I'm not in favor of gambling to go the whole distance in what could cost maybe $4 million. This is very close to what Mr. Long stated a few weeks ago, and there would be potential savings to taxpayers if he accepts," Britain said.
Hubbard said it was appropriate to have the settlement offer on the council's public agenda. He had commented several weeks ago during discussions about the city manager's contract that Mosley would be worth it if as the city's negotiator she could save the city $1 million in a settlement deal on the golf course lawsuit.
Not long after that, Kovarik said Long was willing to knock $1 million off the$3.6 million judgment.
Britain said he resented allegations that council members delayed in resolving the case because it wasn't their money.
"We didn't go into executive sessions and doodle on paper. This is very important," he said.
"And I have a message for Mr. Long. I am a taxpayer, and I am concerned. I hope Mr. Long will invest in our community," Britain said.
Mosley said Tuesday's offer, made in public, was the result of weeks of negotiations.
"We were at a point to make an offer. We want to show them," she said.
The award of $3 million came after a jury decided the city had breached its contract with Long, who claimed he had been denied his right to improve the golf course and build an RV park in place of a driving range.