, 2014


Kilmarnock Town Council
repeats 4-2 vote to purchase
1 North Main Street building

by Audrey Thomasson

KILMARNOCK—An emergency town council meeting last week resulted in a second 4-2 vote to approve a purchase agreement for the Bay Trust building here as a new town hall.

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In a replay of the February 25 council meeting results, all members voted to accept the contract except Shawn Donahue and William Smith.

Nothing new was introduced at the meeting, leaving some citizens wondering how the meeting constituted an emergency and, therefore, was allowed without the three-day notification required by Virginia law. Donahue and Smith called the meeting with less than a day’s notice.

“I question whether there was proper public notice for this meeting,” said former councilman Les Spivey during the public comments section.

The meeting was scheduled to take place behind closed doors. However, the Rappahannock Record objected to a closed session as a violation of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act since the meeting was not over procurement of a contract in which public discussion would adversely affect the town’s bargaining position but over a contract that was already in place.

While there was some confusion at the beginning of the meeting about holding a closed session, members proceeded with an open session.

Smith said the emergency meeting was called after he read details of the purchase contract in the Rappahannock Record.

“It was news to me that we would be renting that building prior to the purchase,” said Smith.

As previously reported, the agreement calls for the town to start renting the building for three months in order to begin minor renovations prior to a July 1 move-in date. The rent payments would go toward the purchase price.

Additionally, financing arrangements for the purchase would be discussed in work sessions on the 2013-14 budget, which becomes effective July 1. Some members of council have stated they would like to pay for the building from the town’s reserves rather than financing the purchase.

“The majority of council had not seen the contract,” Smith said. He obtained a copy last week and provided copies to other council members. “Page 3 of the contract states ‘subject to approval of contract.’ We never approved the contract. How can we approve something we’ve never seen?”

“How many contracts have we entered into that we have seen?” asked councilman Howard Straughan.

Those contracts were not a $729,500 real estate contract, Smith replied.

Straughan said the town center committee held several meetings informing members of the deal.

“I’m not questioning that,” said Smith. “We shouldn’t have to ask to see the contract. It should have been shared...We wouldn’t need this meeting had the dialogue been there.”

“I shared the contents of the contract in the closed session” before the February 25 vote, Straughan argued.

Smith maintained they did not have a valid contract in place and that time was running out on the town’s $5,000 deposit. “Time is of the essence. Our due diligence runs out on Sunday (March 31).”

“Page 3 of the contract says it is subject to town council approval,” said Donahue. “You were negotiating a pre-settlement without letting us know...we were out of the loop...You have a lease agreement.”

Town attorney Chris Stamm interrupted, saying a lease has not been negotiated and could not be discussed in open session.

Council member Rebecca Nunn maintained the purchase agreement is a contract. “We (the town center committee) were given the authority. We did what we were charged to do.” Nunn also said $50,000 is built into the current budget to cover expenditures associated with procurement of a new town hall.

“Maybe things weren’t handled perfectly, but they were handled properly,” said Straughan. “I apologize if you felt slighted. No one had the intent to slight anyone.”

“The contract is a good, legally binding contract,” said Stamm. “There is no lease. We’ll deal with that when the time comes.”

Nunn made the motion to accept the contract, which was seconded by Straughan and supported by Emerson Gravatt and Mae Umphlett.

After the vote, Mayor Raymond Booth began a lengthy statement in opposition to the purchase, prompting members to restate their arguments.

Gravatt, who had attended the meeting despite having a heart procedure earlier that day, rose from the table to leave the building. Booth demanded he sit down and listen to his comments.

Umphlett defended Gravatt, saying he was sick and needed to go home, but Booth persisted that he was well enough to attend, so he should listen to what he had to say.

Gravatt exited the meeting without comment.

“The meeting was over and the agenda finished,” Gravatt said later. “It was a special meeting that ended up being a full town council meeting. The mayor doesn’t understand” council was there for one agenda item only and that it was inappropriate for him to make a statement after the vote and continue with a full agenda, he added.

Town acquisition in
2003 also had hurdles

by Audrey Thomasson

The purchase of 1 North Main Street for the future town hall has prompted several public statements and letters from Mayor Raymond Booth, former town councilman Bob Wille and others opposing the purchase.

Most of the comments suggest town officials should have held public hearings to gather input on the project prior to negotiations or offers.

Wille was a member of council in 2003 when the town purchased 8.6-acres on North Main and Town Center Drive. He has cited that purchase as an example of the proper way to acquire land for the town, including holding public hearings for citizen and business input, obtaining a certified appraisal and having funding details worked out before making an offer.

In addition, Wille said the 8.6-acre parcel was not purchased for a town hall, but to preserve as green space for such things as farmers’ markets, concerts and other town events.

The Rappahannock Record researched records of that purchase, including town council minutes and newspaper articles from 2002-03, and interviewed people involved with the purchase, including the family of the seller, the late John Christopher.

Public process

On November 18, 2002, then Mayor Mike Robertson proposed the purchase to council in open session. Initially, council was opposed. Discussions were held in open and closed sessions and an advisory committee held one public meeting with business owners and residents. Wille made the motion to purchase the property on March 17, 2003. His motion included funding it with “general funds.”

During the four-month process, three other developers entered the bid process to acquire the property and the purchase price increased $89,000, going from $436,000 to $525,000. The property was sold to the town at a significantly lower price than the price offered by one of the developers because the family wanted the town to control it, reported Mike Christopher, the seller’s son and a councilman at the time. Christopher abstained from all discussions and votes regarding the property.

Property uses

Robertson presented council with drawings that included town offices, a movie theater, a professional office complex and senior center in a horseshoe-shaped plan around a 1.5 acre park with a gazebo to be available for town events. Robertson proposed implementing it in stages.

Other suggestions included purchasing the property in order to control development and prevent such uses as low-income apartments or a discount store in the prime location. There was no mention of keeping the parcel exclusively as “green space.”

The 2003 council never agreed on a use.

Appraisal

There is no mention of obtaining an appraisal on the property. However, the assessed value for tax purposes was $389,000 at the time of purchase.

Public comments

Planners Jane Ludwig and Steve Bonner presented a petition of 71 residents favoring the purchase. Ludwig criticized the “negativity” that surrounded the project. The conflict among council members was noted by Carroll Lee Ashburn as an obstacle in the process.

Bonner was critical of the inaction of council. “People voted you into office to make decisions for them and this is one you need to make,” Bonner said. During the final vote, Bonner questioned the $89,000 jump in the purchase price, but no explanation was offered.


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