In a 5-4 vote, the Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Monday night to terminate its relationship with Rippavilla Inc., the nonprofit organization that manages the historic plantation that sits off of U.S. 31.
The Rippavilla Plantation has been owned and supported by the city of Spring Hill since 2017, with Rippavilla Inc. contracted to manage the property. The city allocated $100,000 to Rippavilla Inc. annually, with additional funds provided for maintenance and repairs.
In recent months, questions have arisen regarding the economic feasibility of continuing the relationship between Rippavilla Inc. and the city. Coupled with ongoing communication issues, city leaders first discussed a proposal to terminate Rippavilla Inc.'s contract earlier this month.
Spring Hill leaders consider the termination
To help illustrate the economic feasibility of Rippavilla Inc. continuing to manage the property, the nonprofit created a task force led by former Spring Hill Alderman Jonathan Duda, and requested of the city a 90-day period to workshop a plan to see to it that the nonprofit meets revenue goals expected by the city.
Among the first to talk on the topic Monday night was Alderman Vincent Fuqua, who said he was confident in Duda's leadership enough to grant Rippavilla Inc. its request.
"I think with former Alderman Duda's email and his leadership on this task force, the best opportunity for us is to allot these 90 days for this discussion," Fuqua said. "Making a decision tonight... I don't feel that we're in any crucial rush. I think what this board needs to know and understand is that you'll have an opportunity to revisit this in 90 days provided the information from that task force."
Alderman Dan Allen said that while he'd be willing to "put in the work" were the city to grant Rippavilla Inc. its request, the issues he'd experienced with their ability to manage the property led him to favor terminating the contract in its entirety.
"I don't know what is broken over there, but these things shouldn't be difficult," Allen said.
"In our last in-person meeting that we had together where they were on the agenda to come and present, and I had even gone so far as to send an email a week before clearly outlining several expectations of what we were wanting to hear and find out about. The first thing that comes out at the microphone is 'you wanted a report from us?' I don't know what else to do, I'm not convinced that this entity is the right entity [to manage Rippavilla]."
Vice Mayor Amy Wurth, who had been highly critical of Rippavilla Inc. in the past, also sided with terminating the contract.
"I can't even get my questions answered because half the time I'm being told that that's proprietary information, [I'm being told this] from a company that's managing a facility that our citizens and we own, that we're giving $100,000 to in support," Wurth said. "I have a big problem with this."
Ultimately, the board voted 5- 4 to terminate the contract with Rippavilla Inc. The nonprofit is expected to receive a notice of termination sometime this week, which upon its receival, will be effective in 90 days.
In an email statement, Duda expressed his disappointment in the decision to terminate the contract, and argued that being granted the 90-day deferral would have been a far better approach.
"I am disappointed that a majority of the Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen found that it would be better to terminate the agreement without a plan in place to continue the operation of Rippavilla than to afford the time necessary to fix these issues," Duda wrote.
"I am disappointed that some board members believe that it is better to tear the agreement and organization apart than to work to find solutions with a non-profit organization that has a long history of supporting and preserving Rippavilla."