Hannibal's city attorney filed an unlawful detainer for the city to regain possession of Clemens Field amid claims of unpaid bills, lack of maintenance. Co-owner says city should deal with him directly so Cavemen can someday return to America's Hometown.

The Hannibal Cavemen will not play any games in 2017, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be engaging in some “hardball” in the months to come. The Cavemen’s opponent won’t be the rival Quincy Gems, but the city of Hannibal which contends the team has been in violation of its Clemens Field lease for months.

Barring something unforeseen, the drama will most likely be played out in a courtroom after City Attorney James Lemon on Monday filed an unlawful detainer which seeks possession of Clemens Field.

Under terms of the lease agreement between the city and ownership group, despite not setting foot on a field in 2017 the team retains control over Clemens Field.

“If the lease is in effect they have control of the field for two years,” said Lemon. “If the lease is terminated and is no longer in effect, they do not have control of the field.

“As it is set right now the Cavemen have interpreted the lease to mean that they don’t have to allow other entities to use it (Clemens Field) and other entities have had a great degree of difficulty getting an opportunity to use the facility.”

Rick DeStefane, a co-owner of the team, is miffed the city has not reached out to him about the alleged lease violations.

“Here’s the bottom line, do they want me to take the lease back or don’t (they)? If they don’t, that’s fine. Just let me know,” he said. “I’ve put $800,000 into this thing and for them to say we’re in violation of the lease without talking to me about it directly is beyond my comprehension.”

Lemon counters that before he became involved Andy Dorian, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, “made multiple verbal requests to them” to address the lease violations.

“The city has not taken any aggressive stance with these folks other than to repeatedly ask for them (to fix the lease violations),” said Lemon.

Legal involvement

Lemon came off the bench last fall.

“I sent a letter to them Oct. 20 demanding that they cure multiple violations. They have cured some of them,” said the city attorney. “I can tell you they are still in violation of five points in the lease.”

Two of the violations have to do with field maintenance.

“They quit watering the field and let all the grass die. They have failed to fix it,” said Lemon. “They are in violation of the article which requires them to mow it and keep it up. We had to mow it after the season.”

An article in the lease requires the team to provide the Parks Department with current keys.

“They changed various locks and have not provided us with a set of keys,” said Lemon. “We’ve got access to most areas. It’s just an issue of irritation. If you change locks, give the landlord keys.”

The city contends the team did not do day-to-day cleaning and basic maintenance that the lease requires.

“When the season ended they left all their refrigerator and freezer items in the freezers and refrigerators and as a result we were required to keep electricity turned on to those areas so that their food wouldn’t spoil and rot,” said Lemon.

Unpaid bills

Finally, there is a matter of unpaid bills from April through August. Lemon reports the “city incurred a bill with the Board of Public Works of $18,312.58, a bill with the gas company for $446.87 and have to date incurred a bill with Roland Lawn Care for $4,536 trying to restore the field.

“We want the violations cured. We want this taken care of,” added Lemon. “This wasn’t the deal. They need to live up to the lease agreement.”

Little in the way of communication has taken place between the city and team after Lemon’s October letter.

“They sent me a snarky letter in November telling me they weren’t in default. I followed up with a letter on Nov. 9 telling them why they still were in default on various items. They have never responded since then,” said the city attorney. “We set them a letter on Dec. 8 demanding possession within 30 days. Those 30 days would have passed on Jan. 7. They have not surrendered possession and they have not cured the defaults in the lease so I am today filing a petition of unlawful detainer asking for possession of the property.”

DeStefane contends that the situation can still be resolved.

“It’s up to them what they want to do. To me it would behoove them to talk to me directly and come up with some type of agreement. I will be doing it myself, without Bob Hemond’s involvement. That’s a big difference now,” he said, referring to the team’s co-owner.

Hemond, who resides in California, could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com