By Jim Young
Even though it was approved in February 2011, the details of the purchase of property adjacent to the Crossville Memorial Airport came under discussion during a recent special-called meeting of the Crossville City Council.
Councilman Jesse Kerley said he was bringing up the issue of the airport land purchase because it was “plastered all over town during the last election on Councilman [Pete] Souza’s signs. The way I see it the citizens spoke out loud and clear that the purchase of the airport land was something they wanted answers about.”
Kerley’s main question was about two appraisals of the property before the purchase by the same appraiser at two different values. He said both appraisals had the same date and the one presented at the council meeting when the purchase was approved was for $500,000. The first appraisal on the property was for just under half that value at $228,500 and, according to Kerley, was requested by him at the June 2010 city council meeting when an offer to sell the property by the Donnelly family was first discussed.
Kerley continued, “I would just like for Mayor [J.H.] Graham to explain why we have two appraisals on the same piece of property dated on the same date.”
Graham said he had not researched the issue as he was not certain what aspect of the topic would be discussed at the meeting. Graham said the first appraisal was for just over $10,000 an acre, but he didn’t feel it brought into account the comparables necessary to make a business decision on the purchase. Graham recalled that then-City Manager Curtis Adams sought updated numbers in order to look at other comparables.
Kerley discussed a report from the Tennessee State Board of Appraisers concerning the two appraisals by Randy Button indicating the second one was done 15 days later and backdated to the same date as the first. Kereley said the state board’s report indicated the appraiser’s action was “serious, and collectively undermined the creditability of the collective reports.”
Next, Kerley read portions of a memo from City Clerk Sally Oglesby to Adams. The memo reports that Buttons called to explain the reasons for the updated appraisal. They included more allowance to the frontage of the property and better comparables that were more similar to the subject property.
The memo continued to say that then-Councilman Earl Dean had been in and did not remember voting for the purchase of the property and was concerned about the $500,000. The memo said Dean did not know about the earlier appraisal and it was not shared with him.
Said Kerley, “That memo throws up a red flag and I don’t understand why our city clerk would not give a council member information he would need to make a decision.”
Another memo Kerley read was from Adams and referred to other property the city was negotiating for and a study that councilman Boyd Wyatt had made himself, indicating the airport property was worth some $56,000 an acre or $1.1 million. The memo went on to say that was the reason for the updated appraisal.
Councilman George Marlow said he had friends in real estate who told him property value was what a buyer was willing to pay and a seller was willing to take. He continued that he knew the city had been negotiating for a year on the purchase and he voted for the purchase because he felt it was needed for the future development of the airport. Marlow said the city gets excellent grants and one hanger is already located on this property.
“I just think [the airport property] is an asset to the city,” concluded Marlow.
Councilman Danny Wyatt asked Kerley about the results of the board of appraisers actions concerning the two appraisals. Kerley said that initially a $1,000 fine was assessed but Souza interjected that the end result was just a warning issued by the board.
Wyatt commented he did not initially support the land purchase because of his budgetary concerns but said, after looking at the details, he felt that if an appraiser put his reputation on a second appraisal that he felt the second one was the more accurate number.
Wyatt concluded that with some hangers already constructed and rented and another large hanger under construction, the city should “take the lemons and make lemonade.”
Graham said he felt the property should be remembered like this, “It’s the only 20 acres between the runway and Highway 70. We have 59 T-hangers that are being rented by people that have airplanes and were trying to build the infrastructure for 100,000 people to live in Cumberland County.”
Graham continued, adding that a lot of residential property in Cumberland County will appraise at $10,000 an acre, even with wetlands on it.
“I think it is going to be one of the best purchases that we’ve ever made and I look forward to using that piece of property for the development of the airport,” added Graham.
City Attorney Kenneth Chadwell was asked to comment and said he wanted to stress the Donnelly family was honorable and did nothing wrong. He said that when the city put together the capital outlay notes that he, as the city attorney, had sent all of the appraisals, minutes, resolutions and the entire file on the purchase to the state controller’s office for their review and a letter from the director of local finance was required before the city could complete the transaction.
Souza said he did not impune the Donnelly’s. He he did say one thing that bothered him was Buttons. Souza asked Graham if he had a relationship with Buttons and Graham asked what that had to do with anything. Graham said his friendship had no bearing that he could see on the matter but that they had played golf together in the past. Graham added that his recollection was that Adams had hired Buttons for the appraisal.
Souza then moved that there should be an full investigation into the parties involved in the acquisition of property for the airport. His resolution was for the city manager to request that the governor direct an investigation by the state attorney general’s office, controller’s office and the state ethics officer. Souza stated that if the investigation found nothing wrong, then it was “no big deal.”
Kerley seconded the motion.
Wyatt expressed concern about a two-page resolution that most of the council hadn’t seen before it was presented to them. Wyatt said he didn’t see the need for a “shotgun approach” and that it wouldn’t help the city.
Marlow said he didn’t feel the council had done anything wrong and made the best judgment they could at the time. Marlow said he didn’t care about there being an investigation and felt no one had anything to hide. Marlow commented that he did have a problem with the personal attacks.
“I personally don’t like to be called a liar and a cheat,” Marlow added.
Chadwell said the proper authority to investigate any claim would be the District Attorney General Randy York.
Kerley commented the extra $450,500 could have been used for the senior citizen’s center, built sidewalks and put on the downtown project.
Souza’s motion failed with two yes votes by Souza and Kerley and three no votes by Graham, Wyatt and Marlow.
Wyatt then moved that the city manager write a letter and that the airport land purchase file be turned over to the district attorney, asking his opinion if an investigation is warranted.
Wyatt’s motion was approved unanimously.