Old School Square for the Arts has sued Delray Beach, alleging a conspiracy to illegally end the group’s 32-year lease of the properties that make up the downtown cultural complex.
In addition to the city, the lawsuit names as defendants Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson. They voted on Aug. 10 to end the lease, without putting the item on the agenda or taking public comment.
The lawsuit also names City Attorney Lynn Gelin, Shannon Eadon and Joy Howell. Eadon is the former executive director of Old School Square. She signed a separation agreement in December of 2020. Howell is a former Old School Square board member. She left the board last April and wrote a memo expressing what she considered the group’s deficiencies.
Old School Square alleges that the city, through machinations involving the named defendants, “fabricated” reasons to end the lease without cause and that the termination was prearranged. The lawsuit cites a June email about giving Johnson “OSS bullets,” presumably talking points for the Aug. 10 meeting. The email is from Howell to Eadon. Copied on the email is Leanne Griffith, also a former Old School Square employee.
Several hours after the vote, Eadon sent a text message noting the termination and asking, “Will you join me in starting a committee to restart OSS? We need a new strategic plan and raise pledges of $10M.”
The complaint alleges that Petrolia, Casale, Johnson, Eadon and Howell “conspired with each other to replace Old School Square with an organization that was closely aligned with them and which they could control…” The complaint alleges that they “had regular discussions among themselves devising a plan” to end the lease and “whom to install in OSS’s place…”
The complaint also alleges that Gelin violated the law by ordering city employees, including Police Chief Javaro Sims, to inspect trucks that she suspected might be taking equipment from Old School Square. Under the lease, Old School Square for the Arts owns all the equipment. According to the complaint, members of the police department threatened arrests.
Through the lawsuit, Old School Square seeks to prevent Delray Beach from hiring another company to run the complex. The lease ends on Feb. 9. Today, the city is holding a meeting for prospective bidders.
I’ll have much more in my Tuesday post.