By TOMMY PURSER
At Saturday’s called city council meeting, the agreement between the Greene County medical services provider and the Hazlehurst City Council was repeatedly referred to as a “verbal agreement” and a “handshake agreement.”
And Mayor Bayne Stone said several times that there was no contract signed to lease the building.
But the Ledger was able to obtain a copy of an Aug. 15, 2018, lease agreement signed by R. Bayne Stone, Mayor of Hazlehurst, and the chief operating officer (COO) of the medical service company.
The agreement was for the city to lease the former office of Dr. Sidney Johnson to the company for $1,500 per month beginning Dec. 1, 2018, and ending Dec. 1, 2020, with options to extend the lease at the end of its term.
On Aug. 25, 2018, Stone and a company official also signed a Notice of Intent to Purchase Dr. Johnson’s building. Stone also signed a Landlord’s Waiver of Lien document to Farmers and Merchants Bank of Lakeland, presumably to enable the company to borrow money to cover costs of opening the business in Hazlehurst.
No member of the council and no one at city hall was aware of the documents. And city attorneys Ken Smith and Natasha Bennett were not aware of the lease agreement signed by the mayor in August until last week when the Mayor informed Smith of the lease agreement.
Smith informed the Mayor at that time that the documents were invalid because he had not received council approval to enter into any legal agreement.
So, since the lease agreement was invalid, indeed, there remained only a “verbal” or “handshake” agreement.
But the company was not aware that the agreement was not valid and, thinking they had a valid lease agreement, proceeded to make improvements at the Johnson building with the intention of opening the facility the Monday after Saturday’s called council meeting. They already had appointments booked for that day, and had already printed business cards and other documents with the Johnson Street address on them. They also announced the Monday opening of the medical center on their Facebook page.
The company has now made arrangements to locate at another address in Hazlehurst.
In a mid-December meeting between Mayor Stone and Hospital Administrator Tammy Mims, Stone inquired if the hospital would have any use for the Johnson building. So Mims asked him not to do anything with the building until they could speak further, and she and other hospital officials began to work out details to use the building for doctors’ offices. The hospital already had a doctor ready to move in and set up practice, unaware that the Mayor had made his, what turned out to be, “verbal” agreement with the other company back in August.
By TOMMY PURSER