It wasn’t illegal. They didn’t even try to hide it. Does that make it okay? Not when it comes to city property and there’s a lesson that all governmental bodies can take from it.
Most residents in Cuba probably didn’t pay much attention to a recent real estate transaction conducted by the city. The sale was long overdue and it was discussed in open session at two different meetings. All appeared to be above board.
That doesn’t mean, however, that taxpayers shouldn’t be concerned.
When questioned about the land sale, which involved an old piece of property on the western edge of town the city hasn’t used for anything but storage for many years, Mayor Cody Leathers was quick to provide answers about how it all happened. The following was his respond, verbatim:
“The city received an unsolicited offer on the property. It was not listed for sale. The offer was for $75,000 as is. The property is a half an acre more or less. The city was pondering selling that piece of land. We had ordered environmental studies to be completed on the property due to transformers and other items that have been stored there. The purchaser waived the right to environmental studies. The purchaser is in fact an employee of the city of Cuba. Upon first receiving the unsolicited offer, I immediately contacted our city attorney and he said legally we can entertain it. We met in executive session and agreed to write a contract. Once the contract was agreed upon, we read the ordinance in first reading only, allowed two weeks before we read the second reading, in case any other unsolicited offers came in. They did not. We did not seek an appraisal, based upon the current market and the property being sold as is, we felt the price was fair.”
There’s only one problem with all of what Leathers said, and it isn’t the fact the property was sold to a city employee, although many might find that troubling. The real problem is that he said, “we felt the price was fair.”
Keep in mind, the city was not actively trying to sell this property but received an unsolicited offer for it. Was the price fair? Perhaps, but no appraisal was done on the property and it was sold without anyone else having an opportunity to bid on it.
That’s the problem every taxpayer in Cuba should be concerned about. They have no way of knowing whether the city could have sold that property for $80,000 or $100,000 or $75,001. And they will never know.
When it comes to items of much lesser value—including old police cars, dump trucks, office equipment, and more—the city of Cuba (and numerous other government agencies) routinely seek bids in order to ensure they get the highest possible price on those items for the benefit of the taxpayers. Why wouldn’t that be done on something that has a value of at least $75,000?
Taking bids on the sale of any public property, whether it be a surplus stapler or a building worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, is simply good policy for all government agencies. It protects the taxpayers and provides them with an assurance their hard-earned tax dollars they willfully submit to their local governments is wisely spent.
Many people who are elected to serve the taxpayers like to promise to run government like a business, but that is often times not a practical solution. A private business operator doesn’t have to worry about the public when they decide to sell a piece of real estate or old equipment because it is their property and they can do with it as they choose.
Public property, however, is a much different matter. The land sold by the city of Cuba belonged to the taxpayers, the voters, and the residents of Cuba, not the mayor or the city council. Those taxpayer, voters, and residents should have gotten the best possible price for the property and they’ll never know if they did.