The following is the full text of Lacy Ward’s statement to the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors given at the September 11 meeting.
To: Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors
From: Lacy B. Ward, Supervisor Prospect District
Subject: Grand Jury Investigation into sale of 73.88 acres
Date: September 11, 2007
On January 9, 2007 this board passed a motion requesting the Commonwealth Attorney to seek an appropriate, independent, investigation into the sale of the 73.88 acres of county owned land either by a Commonwealth Attorney outside the area, an appropriate federal agency such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or a Special Grand Jury. The Commonwealth Attorney chose a Special Grand Jury.
The Special Grand Jury issued its report dated August 17, 2007. The Chairman of the Board of Supervisors issued a statement dated August 20, 2007. Most amazing to me was this statement, “First and foremost, the Citizens need to know the Special Grand Jury has exonerated the Board and the County Administrator’s office of any wrong doing.” I can understand why the Chairman rushed to put this personal opinion on this report. He is personally responsible for much of what is wrong with how this county handled the sale of this public property. The Grand Jury did not use the word exonerate, nor any similar word in its report. On the other hand, the first paragraph under the heading, Concerns reads, “The Members of the Special Grand Jury have carefully considered and examined all of the evidence. The Special Grand Jury believes that the Board did not act in the best interest of the Citizens of Prince Edward County in their apparent urgency to sell the 73.88 acre tract of land. The Special Grand Jury is concerned that the Board did not utilize appropriate notification and options that might have insured the best sale price for said property.” Following this paragraph, the Special Grand Jury listed eight (8) specific concerns as follows:
1. The public hearing held August of 1996, declared the 73.88 acre tract as surplus property. At this meeting, the Board indicated that an appraisal would be performed prior to the sale of the property.
2. No new appraisal was performed prior to the sale which would have indicated a fair market value.
3. There was no recent public hearing regarding the intent to sell the 73.88 acre tract.
4. The advertisement for bid appeared only in The Farmville Herald and not papers with larger distributions.
5. An offer of $210,00 was presented to the Board on April 11, 2003. On April 15, 2003, a revised offer existed for $250,000 which was later changed to $225,000 noting the buyer would pay $25,000 in realtor fees.
6. Only two weeks elapsed between the initial advertisement of April 30, 2003 and May 13, 2003, acceptance by the Board with final contract signing on May 14, 2003, giving potential buyers a limited time to consider the purchase.
7. The County did not utilize a public auction sale format which may have increased the return for the County.
8. Considering the level of concern which existed among Crestview area residents, further consideration of the details would have been appropriate.
The transaction was carried out in secrecy, with important documents missing or kept out of the County’s files for more than two years.
By a letter dated December 19, 2005, I informed Chairman Fore that the bids were missing from the Board’s files when I examined them on December 8, 2005. I requested the Chairman direct the County Administrator to locate the bids and return them to the files. I know of no serious attempts to locate the bids. The files at that time contained no copies of contracts covering the sale of the land. The file did contain a settlement sheet. The settlement sheet noted that $25,000 had been split between Remax Realty and Coldwell Banker, Forehand. This fee was not discussed in any meeting that I am aware of. Any Board decision on the payment of this fee would have to have happened in open session to be legal.
Records subpoenaed by the Grand Jury included the copy of a purchase proposal signed by Clayton C. Bryant, Sr. on 3-10-03. This document contains the statement “Seller Agree to pay a 10% Brokerage Fee to ReMax Advantage Plus at closing, 50% of which shall then be paid to the Selling Agency.” ReMax Advantage Plus is listed as Listing Company and Coldwell Banker, Forehand & Co. as the Selling Company. This proposal had a selling price of $200,000.00. This is my first knowledge of this document. The fax cover sheet to this document is dated 3-08-03 with ReMax logo. It is addressed to Clayton/Leighton from Sherry Honeycutt. It would appear, from this document, that Sherry Honeycutt may have originated the notion of the seller paying a 10% Brokerage Fee. Why did the County need a listing and selling agent since the land was not listed and the County planned to advertise the land to the public for sealed bids?
Another document in the Special Grand Jury files is a hand written note dated 5-16-03 from Leighton to Vivian contains the notation “A 50% of the 10% ReMax -Coldwell Banker.”
The sales price is listed as $250,000.00. Also listed on the document is this note, “Call Jill & Clayton.” This disputes Attorney Jill Dickerson’s statements made at the December 12, 2006 Board meeting where she claimed she had no knowledge of what Coldwell Banker or ReMax did for the $25,000.00 they received. Sherry Honeycutt also faxed a copy of the contract to Jill Dickerson on 5-16-2003 with these remarks; “Enclosed is the contract with Clayton’s initials. Is this sufficient? Vivian is representing Clayton. Please close ASAP.”
Leighton Robertson’s statements to the investigator for the Special Grand Jury is as follows; “a sales price of $250,000 was drawn up in a sales contract, but Jill Dickerson, the County Attorney, advised the county to open it up for public bids first. No one expressed interest in the property at the price agreed to, so the bid went to Bryant for $250,000. The sales price was changed to $225,000 with a stipulation that Bryant would pay the real estate commission on the sales price of $250,000.” Robertson stated it would be six of one and half dozen of the other depending on how you looked at it. Bryant paid the commission or the County; it all came out to $250,000. A This Board never agreed to return $25,000 from the sales price of $250,000 to Clayton Bryant so he could pay the Realtors. Under these circumstances, the County should have received a check for $250,000. It appears that Bryant was merely a conduit through which an unauthorized payment of $25,000, of county funds could be paid to the two Realtors. What did Sherry Honeycutt and Leighton Robertson do for the $25,000? The record only reveals a few phone calls and preparation of a contract. The County Attorney, Jill Dickerson, handles real estate transactions in her private practice and Clayton Bryant was represented by Vivian Seay.
The Special Grand Jury Report vindicated those of us who believed that there was wrong doing. The December 2005 discovery of missing bids from the file and the settlement sheet which revealed the $25,000 payment to the two real estate firms further heightened our suspicions.
The inclusion of the contract with Clayton Bryant in the December, 2006 Board Pack raised a number of questions as well as answered some. This contract, which was signed by Clayton Bryant on 4-11-03 and by William G. Fore on 5-14-03, had been kept secret from the time it was signed in 2003 until December 2006. The contract revealed that a $1,000.00 deposit was paid on 4-10-03. This lends credibility to the 4-24-03 citizen tip, indicating that Clayton Bryant had purchased the land and planned to clear the timber and build townhouses. Clayton Bryant did purchase the land, harvested the timber and sold the land. Ultimately the land was purchased by a firm that applied for a Special Use Permit to build townhouses.
After receiving all the materials regarding this land transaction, including the summary of interviews by the State Police investigator, and documents acquired by the Special Grand Jury through subpoenas and other sources, it is unequivocally demonstrated that Clayton Bryant was favored in a number of ways in acquiring this valuable property at an incredibly low price.
1. Mr. Bryant had the advantage of a private negotiation while the Board alleged that the land was to be sold by sealed bids. In other words, Mr. Bryant was coached on what to bid.
2. He was advantaged by having knowledge of the sale, therefore he was better able to respond to a short notice for bids.
3. He was advantaged by the ads appearing in only one local newspaper.
4. He was able to pay his realtor fees from County money.
I have some concerns about the Special Grand Jury Investigation. My statements are in no way intended to criticize the actions of the Grand Jury. The Special Grand Jury is composed of lay people, often called upon to decide complex legal questions. I applaud the work of the Citizens who served on this Grand Jury. Their service did advance the knowledge we have on what happened in this land deal which caused great financial loss to the Prince Edward County Citizens and diminished citizen respect for this Board.
My concerns are:
1. The Grand Jury did not confront and question any of the witnesses called, but rather reviewed the State Police investigator’s summary of statements made to him only by witnesses.
Since no audio or video recordings exist of these discussions, we don’t know what actually was said or what questions were asked.
2. Due to the differing versions of what happened, I expected that, at least, some witnesses would have been questioned under oath.
3. We have more knowledge of what happened but, we are still without the linking of the responsible individuals to some of the acts of wrong doing. For example, concern #5 in the Special Grand Jury Report needs clarification. The reader of this concern could believe that offers were made to the Board and that the Board rejected a $250,000.00 offer and agreed to pay $25,000.00 in Realtors fees. No such action occurred. I maintain that the contract with or without changes was not presented to the Board on April 11, April 15, nor at any other time. The contract was negotiated secretly and kept away from the Board until December 2006.
Any authorization by this Board to accept a certain price for public property must be done in open session. Any notion that such decisions were made in closed session is illegal. We do not know what certain Board Members said off the record. We do know that the Chairman of this Board signed the documents transferring valuable public property to a buyer with whom he or his agent negotiated with while representing to the public that the property was being offered through sealed bids. Extending such favoritism to the successful purchaser of the 73.88 acres of valuable County property, resulted in great financial loss to the County. It is his, the Chairman’s initialed authorization in the contract to pay the $25,000.00 realtor fees.
It is now the responsibility of this Board to take proper corrective actions regarding the conduct of certain individuals in this matter. It is my opinion that the Board can restore some of the confidence and respect the Citizens of Prince Edward County may have had in us by taking these corrective actions.