27 June 2019

Newton BOC to Vote on Nelson Heights Property Acquisition TONIGHT

Though tabled until August at its last general meeting, County NOW Set to Pay Upwards of 70% Over Appraised Value TONIGHT at a Special Called Meeting

Staff Reports

Believe it or not, the BOC's Special Called Meeting tonight at 6pm (June 27, 2029) is to reconsider the purchase of  the J.C. Henderson/Rising Son Church property in Nelson Heights.  At the last regular meeting on June 18, the BOC voted to table this acquisition and take it up again at their August BOC meeting.  However, it seems that the Chairman has already signed a contract or agreement to buy the 1.9 acres for $30,000, despite the independent appraisal values being $17,000 and $19,100. So, the county legal folks think the BOC has to vote to overturn the contract and that will take a 4 vote majority!  Well, that is not likely to happen, especially with J.C. being allowed to vote even though he has a clear conflict of interest.  Every other commissioner would have to vote to void the contract!   Commissioners Mason and Cowan are unlikely to vote down the contract so the  purchase may very well go forward without a huge public outcry!

This is a legal quagmire because there is  a strong argument that the contract is invalid because it was not approved by a majority vote in a public meeting (see the Ga Law below).  However, there is apparently provisions in other laws that give some validity to the chairman's actions.  This seems unreasonable especially since the commissioners said publicly that all the facts were not brought out in their Executive Session. 

The real question is whether this purchase is in the best interest of the public. The answer is NO for the following reasons:

1. The 1.9 acres is not needed because there are 14 acres of land  currently owned by the county immediately adjacent to the proposed acquisition. This is adequate acreage to expand park facilities in District 4. See attached photo.

2. The price of the property is significantly  higher than the appraised value (ed. note: almost 70%!).

3. The county is buying property from Rising Son Church, where Commissioner Henderson is or was a deacon and the CFO  (as of 2016) of their legal identity. Rising Son church participated in a scheme that cost the county $11,000 when the county purchased land from it earlier. The church also owes another $3,000 in unpaid rental fees for use of the Nelson Heights Community Center. These amounts must be deducted from any purchase of land from the church in order for taxpayers to be made whole. 

4. Last, but not least, the agreement  to purchase this property is invalid because it was not approved by the BOC in a public meeting. In fact, the reverse happened in that the purchase decision was tabled.

Without a public outcry, this will be another boondoggle that wastes SPLOST funds that belong to all taxpayers and only benefits the church and Mr. Henderson. The $30,000 can be used to develop more recreation opportunities on the existing county land.

50-14-3 Portion of Open Meetings Act

In an executive session, a governmental entity can:

(E) Enter into an option to purchase, dispose of, or lease real estate subject to approval in subsequent public vote.
No vote in executive session to acquire, dispose of, or lease real estate, or to settle litigation, claims, or administrative proceedings, shall be binding on an agency until a subsequent vote is taken in an open meeting where the identity of the property and the terms of the acquisition, disposal, or lease are disclosed before the vote or where the parties and principal settlement terms are disclosed before the vote;