Former cafe operator seeks $150,000 from MetroParks


By Jordyn Grzelewski

jgrzelewski@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The former operator of the Garden Cafe at Fellows Riverside Gardens seeks $150,000 from Mill Creek MetroParks for alleged breach of contract.

Patricia Tinkler and Peter Mitchell Lynch, owners of Friends and Family Ltd., which operated the Garden Cafe until the MetroParks terminated the lease agreement in August, claim that the MetroParks unlawfully breached the contract and that MetroParks Executive Director Aaron Young did so for reasons that are “personal, retaliatory and unrelated to park business.”

That’s according to a legal notice sent to MetroParks officials Monday by Atty. Anthony J. Farris on behalf of Tinkler and Lynch.

The couple sought the counsel of Farris and Atty. Walter Ritchie “to address irregularities, constitutional violations and the wanton abuse of governmental power related to the unjust and unlawful breach of their lease to operate the Garden Cafe,” according to the letter.

The MetroParks board voted at its August meeting to terminate the three-year lease agreement with Friends and Family that began in January 2015.

MetroParks officials would not elaborate at the time about the reason for the termination, citing legal issues.

Young said at the time it was due to Friends’ “failure to abide by the terms and conditions of the lease agreement.”

Asked about the legal claim Friday, Young said it would be “inappropriate” to comment at this time, but said that a monetary settlement with Tinkler and Lynch is “absolutely not” a possibility.

“We will wait to see if a formal suit is filed, and we will let the legal counsel handle it from there,” he said.

He added that MetroParks leadership is “thrilled” with Kravitz, noting that October cafe sales were $26,000, double the average October sales from the previous six years.

But Tinkler and Lynch allege that Young initiated the lease termination for personal reasons.

“Aaron Young informed Mr. Lynch that he terminated the lease because my clients had ‘three strikes,’” Farris wrote.

Those “three strikes,” according to the complaint, are that Lynch “liked” a Facebook post criticizing Young; that Tinkler told someone that the controversy surrounding staff cuts at the MetroParks earlier this year was hurting the cafe business; and that Lynch told a MetroParks intern rumors about an affair.

“None of said reasons are a sufficient nor legally permissible basis for a government entity to terminate a valid lease entered into through a bidding process,” wrote Farris. “Aaron Young’s actions were, based on his own words, specifically done in response to criticisms of him and in retaliation for my clients’ exercise of their First Amendment rights.”

The complaint also states that Lynch was questioned by MetroParks police, which Police Chief James Willock confirmed, but declined to comment on. He said the police investigation was initiated by a human-resources complaint.

“That’s why we ended up getting involved. ... We had to check if there was anything of a criminal nature,” he said. “It’s not unusual for HR to say, ‘Hey, we have a concern about this.’ ... Because there’s been numerous internal issues where an employee complains about another employee.”

Asked about the allegation, per Farris’ letter, that the “investigation primarily consisted of interrogating him [Lynch] at the police station in a manner designed to harass and intimidate and was replete with implied threats,” Willock said he was not present, but, “I obviously don’t believe there’s any basis for that.”

Additionally, the claim alleges that the MetroParks interfered in “negotiations which were ongoing to transfer the operator’s rights under the lease agreement to a third party.”

Tinkler and Lynch claim they were in negotiations at that time to transfer their leasing rights to Kravitz Deli. But, the MetroParks terminated Friends’ lease and independently entered into a new agreement with Kravitz.

Tinkler and Lynch said they plan to pursue litigation in federal court if they are unable to resolve their issues with the MetroParks. The letter states that they are “willing to settle prior to filing” for $150,000.

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