Scranton Councilman Says Coffeehouse Deal May Violate Ethics Code
SCRANTON — Councilman Bill Gaughan questions whether Licensing, Inspections and Permits Director Patrick Hinton’s renting of an unused building at Nay Aug Park for a coffee shop violates the city’s ethics code.
Gaughan cited an article in The Times-Tribune on Monday about the Scranton Municipal Recreation Authority’s lease of a former restroom building at the park to Hinton. Gaughan emailed solicitor Amil Minora on Tuesday asking him to review whether Hinton violated the city Administrative Code’s section on ethics.
In a phone interview, Minora said he had not yet reviewed the matter.
The article reported that a 10-year lease began in July 2017 and Hinton has two years to open the coffee shop. He gets two years rent-free because the approximately 700-square-foot building isn’t open, and then must pay annual rent of $3,000 in monthly installments.
LIP director since Mayor Bill Courtright took office in 2014, Hinton said he asked the recreation board in 2014 or 2015 to consider his coffee shop idea. In July 2016, the authority issued a public notice in The Times-Tribune formally requesting proposals for renovation and use of the building. Only Hinton submitted a proposal.
In a phone interview, Gaughan said he realizes that Hinton’s lease came about via the authority issuing a public request for proposals, called an RFP, but added, “I really am concerned about the way it went down.”
Hinton said that upon embarking on the venture, he had his attorney, Timothy Hinton, first review city and state ethics codes to ensure everything was done properly.
The Hintons are first cousins, Patrick said. Timothy Hinton also is an attorney for The Times-Tribune.
Gaughan cited the following sections of the ethics code as areas of concern:
n Conflict of interest: a city employee shall not participate in negotiation or administration of any contract in which the employee has a financial or other interest.
n Disclosure: an employee with any private financial interest in any business or transaction pending before any municipal authority or agency shall disclose such private interest to City Council.
n Use of public property: an employee shall not use any public property for personal benefit or profit.
Hinton believes none of these sections apply in this case, because the authority issued a public RFP and this process dictated the lease and the transaction.
“Everything was aboveboard and open,” Patrick Hinton said. “There were numerous public meetings where anyone could attend. There was nothing to hide here.”
The building opened as a restroom for women in 1905 with an addition for male restrooms added later. No records exist of how the building was used between 1918 and 2004. The city renovated the building and reopened it as restrooms in 2005, limited to use by people hosting events in the park. The building hasn’t been used since 2010.
Patrick Hinton and his LIP department typically handle code enforcement and health inspections of buildings and establishments. But in this case, the city’s third-party inspection firm or a different third-party firm would do the building code review, and the city could ask state inspectors to do health inspections, he said.
He will name the coffee shop The Blackwatch Cafe, after the blackwatch plaid pattern and colors, a favorite of his, and also for the randomness of the title.
“I’m a sucker for plaids. I love blackwatch plaids — always have,” Patrick Hinton said.
He hopes to have the coffee shop open in spring.
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