Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Was county's decision to purchase golf course a good one?

Earlier this year, Iredell County commissioners voted unanimously to pay $4.75 million for 189 acres of land adjacent to the county landfill – $3.25 million more than the land sold for just two years earlier, and about $3 million more than county assessors have since determined it is worth.

County officials maintain that the property – on which Twin Oaks Golf Course is currently situated – is needed for a future landfill expansion. They say the purchase was forward-thinking and fiscally responsible.

That could certainly be true. But the seemingly hurried process by which the county acquired the property, and the associations among some of the people involved, raise a few questions.

Was the county’s purchase of the Twin Oaks Golf Course property a sound, responsible decision? Read the following history of the project, and let me know your thoughts:

In November 2005, a development company, Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC, purchased the 189 acres adjacent to the landfill for $1.5 million. Mooresville attorney Ben Thomas – the development company’s managing partner – said that he and his partners, Michael Ryon and John West, purchased the Statesville golf-course property “within days of it coming on the market (in 2005) and before it was common knowledge” that the land was for sale.

“The company believed the asking price was well below the market value for land that could be developed into residential lots with water and sewer already on site,” said Thomas in a two-page statement to the Report on Friday.

“At that time, in our view,” the statement read, “the seller was treating it simply as the sale of an older golf course needing significant repair, and not with the potential of it being developed into a viable and attractive golf course community.”

In December 2005, Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC requested from the Iredell County Board of Commissioners a release of zoning jurisdiction to the City of Statesville in an effort to have city utilities extended to the golf-course property.

According to the minutes of the Dec. 20, 2005 briefing of county commissioners, Planning Supervisor Steve Warren said that the planning staff recommended approval of the request, which had received prior approval from the City of Statesville.

Warren cautioned commissioners, however, that the site was near the county landfill, which “at times, might not be too conducive for a housing development.” The minutes state that Thomas, along with Twin Oaks Golf Club’s general manager, Patty Keath, and Equity Commercial Property’s Frank Harmon – “all interested parties or developers in the housing project” – were at the meeting to encourage county approval. “They said having a landfill in close proximity to a housing development was ‘not new ground,’” the meeting minutes read.

Also according to the minutes, Iredell County Manager Joel Mashburn said that the area had “traffic, noise and occasional odors.” Keath added that “methane gas (from the landfill) could occasionally be smelled (from the golf-course property), but only on a really hot day.”

But Iredell County Commissioner Sara Haire Tice – who was chair of the commission at the time – noted a positive element to the proximity of the would-be residential project to the county landfill: homeowners would have city water.

The request for zoning jurisdiction was added to the commissioners’ consent agenda and later approved.

To read the minutes from the Dec. 20, 2005 meeting, click on the documents below:

Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC “developed preliminary plans for a 335-home golf course community,” Thomas said, adding in his statement to the Report that “the potential profit margin of the home sites after expenses including the value of the improved golf course was determined to be in excess of $9.5 million.” It is unclear who made that specific determination.

Thomas said the company then acquired a $3.3 million loan, apparently from Catawba Valley (now CommunityOne) Bank, “to purchase the property and to develop approximately 1/3 of the home sites.”

The company, said Thomas, began “engineering the subdivision, clearing trees and making improvements to the golf course, including landscaping, new cart paths, remodeling the club house, acquiring new golf carts and building an outdoor pavilion.”

Approximately $2.5 million of the $3.3 million was spent on the purchase, engineering, planning, improvements and interest on the loan, Thomas said.

He said he and his partners “began negotiating in earnest with a large homebuilder to buy all the lots in an effort to realize the anticipated return on the company’s rather expensive investment.” But that builder backed out, so the company “was left looking for other options” and “began working with several small builders to purchase the future lots,” Thomas said.

That’s when Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC contacted the county landfill office, said Thomas, to find out “when it would be finished with final landfill activities being conducted next door to the golf course.

“During that discussion, and in light of our unanticipated delays with potential construction partners,” Thomas said, “we disclosed that the project was being delayed and might even be sold to another developer.”

The county, according to Thomas, contacted Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC “and indicated that if the property was for sale they might be interested in buying it to expand its landfill.

“Negotiations ensued, a selling price was discussed, and the county was not willing to pay what the company believed the overall property was worth at the time,” said Thomas. But since the company “was receiving pressure from its lender to move forward with the road construction, even though no contracts had been signed with builders to buy the lots,” Thomas said, “the company decided to continue negotiations with the county at a reduced price with the mutual understanding the county would lease the golf course back.”

Coupled with that, the company “felt an obligation to keep the golf course open and the employees on staff for as long as possible,” Thomas said. Therefore, “an agreement was reached and a sale was made under those terms,” he added.

Thomas said that the development company, at the time of sale, “had the very strong opinion that it was not getting as much for the property through its sale to the county as it could if it were to finish the development” or sell the property to another developer. But the company went through with the sale “because it felt the county could purchase the property sooner than any other potential buyers.” And that, he said, “would eliminate the company’s risk in the investment much quicker.”

By now, it’s November 2007. County commissioners were working on a “school improvements” campaign, planning to borrow $106 million in Certificates of Participation (COPS) to make capital improvements to various county schools. The COPS package was increased to $115 million in early December. In mid-December, the commissioners voted to purchase the golf-course land for $4.75 million.

In a Jan. 15, 2008 meeting, commissioners set the public hearing on the COPS package for two weeks later, on Jan. 29. It was also during the Jan. 15 meeting that the purchase of the golf-course land was added to the COPS proposal, increasing the total bond request to not-to-exceed $120 million – $113 million of which the county eventually issued.

Below are minutes from various meetings of the Iredell County Board of Commissioners, showing the evolution of the COPS bond package. Click on the documents to enlarge:

(The minutes above are from Nov. 6, 2007, when commissioners were discussing a "not-to-exceed" $106 million COPS bond package for improvements to various county schools.)

(These are minutes from a Dec. 4, 2007 briefing of county commissioners; the COPS package increased to "not to exceed" $115 million for "the financing of certain school facilities.")

(These are minutes from the county commission's Dec. 6, 2007 "mini-retreat." In a review of capital needs, no mention is made of the need to purchase land to expand the landfill.)

(These are the minutes from the Jan. 15, 2008 county board meeting, when the golf-course land is included in the COPS package. During this same meeting, commissioners scheduled the Jan. 29 public hearing. The COPS package increased to "not to exceed" $120 million.)

(Above are the minutes from the Jan. 29, 2008 public hearing.)

(These are minutes from the county commission's Feb. 5, 2008 meeting, showing the approved resolution regarding the COPS package.)

Also in January 2008, Iredell County Waste Management received a certified appraisal by Hawkins Appraisal Serve that placed the “highest and best use” of the golf-course property at $2.5 million.

But three months after receiving that appraisal, the county closed on the golf-course property for $4.75 million. And less than one month after taking over ownership of the property, county assessors appraised the property value at about $1.6 million.

To see the May 23, 3008 appraisal card, click on the document below:

After purchasing the property, the county attorney stated that the county had no intention of going into the golf business. But as a condition of sale, the county negotiated a “lease-back” agreement with Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC, which stipulated that the county would receive 50 percent of the golf-course operation’s annual net profits, but a guaranteed payment of no less than $1,000 a month.

To read Iredell County's original lease agreement with Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC, click on the documents below:

A consultant hired by the county to review the golf-course lease advised against the county asking for a percentage of net profits because the number could be “easily manipulated” by the lessee.

In three months this summer – May, June and July – the county received a combined total of $4,000 in rent, while the net-profit of the golf-course operations was $55,784 -- $20,015 in May, $20,532 in June and $15,237 in July.

The balance of one-half the net profits will be due no later than March 31, when the county, said Mashburn, also requires “audited financial statements to be submitted … for the preceding year.”

Thomas said that after Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC sold the golf-course property to the county, “the golf management company called Twin Oaks Golf Club, LLC was transferred to the golf course manager of Twin Oaks who has been working there for 20 years. She is now the sole owner of Twin Oaks Golf Course, LLC.”

Just last week and after accepting bids, county commissioners approved a new operating lease with Twin Oaks Golf Club, LLC for a period of up to nine years, said Mashburn. Effective Jan. 1, “the lease payments to the county will be $2,000 a month and 3 percent of the gross receipts,” he added.

What oversight or monitoring does the county utilize to protect our investment? According to County Finance Director Susan Blumenstein, county staff makes “on-site observation visits to insure the course, equipment, and facilities are being maintained as required by the lease.” Also, she said a certified public accountant provides the county a monthly “‘cash basis’ financial statements for golf course operations.”

Why didn’t the county purchase the golf-course land in November 2005 when it was sold to Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC for only $1.5 million? The answer is simple, said Mashburn: because the county didn’t know it was for sale. “What really triggered the county’s interest was when it came out in the paper that the new owner planned to put housing units in and around the golf course,” he said. “We felt that if that occurred, it would forever remove this land for possible landfill expansion, plus it would probably lead to numerous complaints from the new neighbors.”

Mashburn – who retires as county manager on Feb. 1, 2009 – said the county has been looking at the potential expansion of the landfill since 2004, when consultants told the county that it had 10-12 years of life left in the existing landfill. The county’s options: look for a new site elsewhere in the county or begin shipping waste to commercial landfills.

When Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC made the golf-course property available for purchase in December 2007, Mashburn said it was a perfect opportunity for the county. “When the existing life is run out of the current landfill,” he said, “it will be almost impossible to relocate the operation to another location in the county. The possibility of finding adequate acreage will be almost impossible, to say nothing of the cost of relocating or restructuring the infrastructure which would cost well over $10 million for the infrastructure alone. It is in the best interest of all the citizens to be able to stay in the current location for as long as possible.

“By purchasing the golf course,” Mashburn added, “we should be able to stay at that location for about 50 years.”

He said the county does not anticipate expanding the landfill onto the golf-course property for another 12-15 years.

It is unclear if the county, before agreeing to purchase the 189 acres, thoroughly considered alternatives to solid-waste disposal or technological advances that could render landfills useless within the next 12-15 years. “Presently the only other effective alternatives to landfilling are cost prohibitive and very unpopular with most citizens” Mashburn said. “We are going a lot toward recycling to help reduce the amount going into the landfill.”

By the time that the landfill – if and when the county expands it – runs out of space, “hopefully suitable technology will be developed … so that it is no longer necessary to take up valuable land to bury the garbage … our society generates.”

Without an immediate need to expand the landfill – without compelling evidence suggesting that the landfill operation will ever need to be expanded, or even need to exist in a decade – did the county make a good decision in sinking $4.75 million into a piece of property that is worth far less than that? How much thought was put into the multi-million-dollar purchase, when the first time it was introduced for discussion was December 2007 and only a month later it was tucked into the county’s school-improvements bond package? And since many of the people integrally involved in the transaction have established associations with one another, the question must be asked: Did the business deal pass the muster of an “arms length transaction”?

Ben Thomas – the managing partner of Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC – has served on the board of directors for the South Iredell Community Development Corporation (SICDC) since at least 2007 and is the organization’s attorney.

Iredell County Commissioner Sara Haire Tice and County Manager Joel Mashburn have also served on the SICDC’s board of directors since 2007, according to a roster of membership provided to the Report earlier this year by the Mooresville-South Iredell Economic Development Corporation (MSIEDC).

Woody Washam is President of the SICDC and – like Thomas, Tice and Mashburn – has served on the board of directors since at least 2007. Washam is also the market president of CommunityOne Bank (formerly Catawba Valley Bank), which provided the multi-million-dollar mortgage to Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC to develop the golf-course property.

When Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC sold the property to the county, the development group still owed Catawba Valley about $2.5 million on the mortgage, according to the HUD-1 settlement statement associated with the transaction.

To view the statement, click on the documents below:

When asked about the risks involved in providing a $2.5 million mortgage against a piece of property in which ownership was only $1.5 million (and the appraised value was approximately the same), Washam said that the HUD-1 statement “only will tell you part of the story of what is going on and the overall transaction itself.

“I am sure that you are aware that how a bank structures loans is based on many variables,” Washam added.

Thomas said in his statement to the Report that the sale of the golf-course property to Iredell County “was certainly a good and fair transaction under the circumstances as they existed at that time.

“It was good for the employees at Twin Oaks Golf Course, and it was a very smart and prudent investment by the county,” he added.

Thomas said that the county “paid approximately $25,000 per acre" for the golf-course property, "which was below the market value at the time." In addition to that, Thomas said, "the county now enjoys the benefit of post-sale revenues from the lease of the golf course until it needs the property to expand the existing landfill.”

He also pointed out in the statement that "the individuals associated with Twin Oaks Development, LLC and Twin Oaks Golf Course, LLC are private citizens and are not public officials." While granting "express permission" for the Report to use the company names and information included in the statement, he "expressly and strictly prohibited" the use of "individual names of persons associated with or employed by Twin Oaks Development, LLC and Twin Oaks Golf Course, LLC."

To read Thomas' full statement, click on the documents below:

Mashburn has pointed out that county staff, not commissioners, recommended purchasing the land, and he defends the county’s decision to buy it: “We were well aware of how much the owners paid for the land, and we also knew how much we had appraised it for tax purposes,” he said. “We knew that the owners were asking much more than supported by the above, but we all know that the real value of a piece of property is what a willing buyer and a willing seller are able to agree on the purchase price being.” Mashburn has also said that landfill fees, and not property taxes, will be used to repay the debt from the golf-course land purchase.

Neither Tice nor any of Iredell County’s other four commissioners – Marvin Norman, Steve Johnson, Ken Robertson and Godfrey Williams – responded to Report questions last week. Robertson was the only commissioner to contact the Report, asking for additional time to answer the questions.

I will post their responses if/when I receive them.

County Election 2008: Six candidates are vying next week for three open seats on Iredell County’s board of commissioners. Scott Keadle will join Williams and Robertson as the county’s three Republican candidates on the Nov. 4 ballot. Tice’s seat is also open this year, but she chose not to seek re-election.

Democratic challengers for the county commission seats are Chuck Gallyon, Barbara Orr and Mark Vanek.

The two top vote-getters receive 4-year terms on the county commission, while the candidate who finishes third receives a 2-year term.

(A friendly reminder: Ben Thomas raised a valid point in his response to Report questions: the employees and associates of Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC are private citizens and not public officials. At the same time, those people became "public figures" when they participated in a public transaction, involving public money. That being said, I welcome and encourage open dialogue about the issues brought to light in this article, but I urge anyone who plans to post a comment to be civil and not to make unsubstantiated allegations against the people named in the article. If any unsubstantiated allegations are made, I will promptly remove them.)


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

S-I-C-D-C......everytime I hear it I get all warm and fuzzy inside......

Anonymous said...

A housing development next to the landfill? Are you serious??? Shoooooooey!

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna have to read this one again to try and fully understand it, but so far it sounds pretty darn crooked to me.

Anonymous said...

im with you 1054 and 1040-somethin dont smell right here and it sure as hell aint the garbage dump.

Anonymous said...

Looks to me like when things started going south for this group they had to start looking for a patsy real quick to make up what they'd put into it, and VOILA, there was the county sitting there with my county money just more than willing to oblige.

Anonymous said...

I only have one question. Where were the newspapers while this nonsense was going on? Fast asleep at the wheel? Oh, I almost forgot. Record & Landmark was too busy putting together a puff piece about how Sara Haire (chairman of the board that voted for this) was the "God Mother" of the county. She was the God Mother all right. Thanks for nothing Sara.

Anonymous said...

Jaime, you are way off with your statement " the employees and associates of Twin Oaks Golf Development, LLC are private citizens and not public officials. At the same time, those people became "public figures" when they participated in a public transaction, involving public money. "

How do employees of a company that sold a piece of land to county government become public figures? That logic pretty much sums up one of your flaws. Granted, you have done some good work, but that view is just plain wrong. Under that logic, any employee of a company that sells a product or service to a government entity automatically becomes a public figure. How exactly do you defend that logic?

Also, property tax appraisals do not set prices for real estate. They never have and never will. If the property is not developed with a business or residential purpose, the appraisal is lower. It's the way it has always been done.

The rest of the article was very informative. Thanks for the information.

Anonymous said...

Transparency? Closed sessions? This deal was supposed to fly under the radar. Pope (county attorney) negotiated the back door deal and the lease to benefit Thomas. There are county ordinances that are specific to purchasing, ANYTHING! Why are these ignored when a multimillion dollar deal is involved? If not illegal it is certainly unethical. The COPS bonds will cost the taxpayer alot more than the 4.7 million, all at a time when the county is quickly sinking in it's debt.

I think we need a new county assesor. When a property worth 1.5 million is sold for 4.7 million isn't it worth more? An explanation, please.

I think the SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) may need to open up an Iredell County office.

Anonymous said...

As citizens of Iredell County, we are entitled to fully understand the business affairs that go on on our behalf. How many of us were not aware of this? Thanks Jamie for bringing this to the front. Some have been in the seats far tooooooo long and forgotten their civil responsibiities. Let's get our votes out for new voices.

Vic Marquis said...

Wow, from Tom to Iredell County !!!!!!!
Never thought I would live in such corrupt local governments.
I love Mooresville, and it's people,we just have to get it right at the polls. Let's clean out all the staus quo's and start fresh, I beleive we have a chance, truly I do. One more thing, keep religion out of making polital decisions. If these governments were run like businesses, we wouldn't be making all these misaligned decisions.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how the County Attorney,Mr. Pope,could convince himself the County had no intention of going into the golf business,but insisted the purchase of the Twin Oaks golf property would be contingent on the lease-back of the course to the Company running it!
One would suspect he was either deliberately trying to mislead,or he is not familiar with Contract Law!

Anonymous said...

You don't have to worry about Mr. Pope doing anything unethical. He sits on the NC State Ethics Commission. How could he possibly do anything unethical?

Anonymous said...

10:37, I assume this is sarcasism????
Hopefully for those of us that question.

Anonymous said...

Yes, unfortunately for us taxpayers it is sarcasm. The wolf that is supposed to watch the sheep.

Anonymous said...

The story presented by BEN THOMAS may be one of the great fairy-tales of all time ! The sad thing is he may even believe it.
He suggests he purchased Twln Oaks to develop an attractive golf course community. This development was to have 335 homes. He then claims he borrowed $3.3 million to purchase the property and develop 111 of the home sites.
In the next part of this dream he spent $2.5 million for the purchase, Engineering, planning, improvements, and interest on the loan. The improvements included landscaping, new cart paths, remodeling the club house, buying new golf carts, and building an outdoor pavilion.
This would leave him $800,000 to develop the 111 home sites.
Mr. Thomas purchased the property in November, 2005, and claims "water and sewer" were already on site. This assertion causes one to wonder, why he went to the County Board meeting on December 20, 2005 for the sole purpose of requesting the Commissioners to release zoning restrictions to allow city utilities ( water and sewer ) to be available to the golf course.
It is obvious the response of Mr. Thomas to the Report, is a deliberate attempt to avoid/mislead. Whatever the truth is, he has ignored it.

Anonymous said...

That smell is not the landfill - - - it is BEN THOMAS. He stinks and I would not trust him to even open a door for me.

Harold Salisbury said...

Hi Jaime
Wow! Two months ago I wrote to each County Commissioner And the County Manager, and asked each of them to send me their justification for paying such an unrealistic amount of money for a property that was, by their own assessment,$3.25 million higher than the property was worth.
Not one of the Commissioners responded!
Mr. Masburn did reply,but the "justification was without any realistic foundation,and left me with the concern that either stupidity or fraud was somehow the cause.
Their is no doubt, the individuals that are supposed to be representing us do not have our interests in mind ,nor do they care enough to answer our questions and concerns.
They need to be investigated and replaced.
Since we are dealing in the millions of dollars,a contact with the Attorney General might be appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely the Attorney General must be contacted with regard to this unbelievable situation. The fact that not a single commissioner responded to the questions posed is sufficient for me to become extremely suspicious.

Anonymous said...

I was really struck by Thomas' wording here:

"the individuals associated with Twin Oaks Development, LLC and Twin Oaks Golf Course, LLC are private citizens and are not public officials." While granting "express permission" for the Report to use the company names and information included in the statement, he "expressly and strictly prohibited" the use of "individual names of persons associated with or employed by Twin Oaks Development, LLC and Twin Oaks Golf Course, LLC."

Is he talking about himself? Is he talking about his partners? When he and his partners decided to get rich from public dollars, their names also became public records. He clearly does not like that, and that is tough. As a matter of fact, I would like to know the names of every single person who benefited by the final ridiculous price of $4.75 million that the county paid this "group" for land that they want us to believe they want to put trash in one day.

Actually, the more I think about his wording here, the more I think he is trying to intimidate Gatton into protecting the names of everybody involved so that they can continue to hide and continue to do this kind of wheeling and dealing.

Anonymous said...

I read that as individuals who are employed. The owners are all public record and can be found out. Partners, vendors or employees are not subject to scrutiny like owners are. This blog is earning a reputation for rooting out corruption. But, at the same time, it is earning a reputation for smearing people's names without evidence. I don't blame them for taking required steps to protect those that are not direct decsion makers in the venture. At some point, Jaime will cross the line and get sued. Until that point, people are going to do what their attornies tell them to do and give out only the limited amount of information required by law. Nothing more.

Anonymous said...

Something tells me that Jaime Gatton is not exactly quaking in her shoes with fear of "getting sued." Why? Because some of us know about a little something called "discovery". Discovery is when somebody files a lawsuit against YOU, and in return YOU get to open all their little closets. Just imagine how much fun she could have with that...

Anonymous said...

I had to go back in some older posts and articles because of how familiar some of these names sounded. And well, well, well. Turns out sure enough Woody Washam was one of the local businessmen who signed that infamous letter of support for the former police chief who's now under investigation for fraud. And it turns out that Ben Thomas was the lawyer who supposedly incorporated the Cops For Kids charity that the former chief is now accused of having defrauded.

It also turns out that Ben Thomas, Woody Washam, Joel Mashburn and Sara Haire Tice all sit on a secretive board called the SICDC together, along with Bill Thunberg. Same organization that Mooresville's mayor Thunberg tried to pretty much hand over $350,000 in the form of collateral to. The Gatton Report exposed that of course.

What's up with this gang? They just keep turning up like a bad penny.

Anonymous said...

Okay, let me see if I understand this:

1) a certified appraisal by Hawkins Appraisal Serve that placed the “highest and best use” of the golf-course property at $2.5 million.

2) But three months after receiving that appraisal, the county closed on the golf-course property for $4.75 million.

3) And less than one month after taking over ownership of the property, county assessors appraised the property value at about $1.6 million.

4) All 5 members voted for it, but refused to answer any questions when confronted.

Yep. I know all I need to know. Thank you Ms. Gatton for your thorough and courageous reporting in the face of a clear effort to intimidate you by one of the beneficiaries of this shady deal.

Now I know who I will NOT be voting for next week for County Commission.

Anonymous said...

Has Mashburn lost his mind?
From what is reported, he says, paying $4.75 million for a $1.5 million piece of property was a perfect opportunity for the county. He says
"when the existing life is run out of the current landfill, it will be almost impossible to relocate the operation to another location in the county".
He also says "we should be able to stay at that location for about 50 years".
After he said this, he then said "by the time the landfill-If and when the county expands it". Here the operative word is "if". This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, at least he believes there is an element of uncertainty, and shows the decision for the purchase was not based on "need".
Nice to know the great thought and investigation that went into spending our $4.75 million!
Mashburn then says "We are going a lot toward recycling to help reduce
the amount going to the landfill". Where does he expect the recycled product to go? Does he think it will evaporate? Just another confirmation of his lack of touch with reality.
The only intelligent thing he has contributed, is his unexpected decision to retire. The unfortunate reality is, it should have happened 10 years ago!
I agree-get the Attorney General to investigate.

Anonymous said...

I went back to see that quote from Masburn.....the one that said "if and when the county expands the landfill" quoted above.....and thats not a quote from Mashburn. Im not definding the guy by any means,tho.

Anonymous said...

Who is intimidating Jaime?

Anonymous said...

Somebody needs to tell Ben Thomas and his business partners in this deal that not all that glitters is gold. How do they sleep at night knowing they got rich off the back of their fellow county residents hard earned tax dollars.

Anonymous said...

"How much thought was put into the multi-million-dollar purchase, when the first time it was introduced for discussion was December 2007 and only a month later it was tucked into the county’s school-improvements bond package?"

That, to me, is the most pressing question. There are people on this commission who are famous and well-loved for nitpicking every dollar. What the hell happened here?! Even if Sara Tice was somehow in cahoots with Thomas, it still doesn't explain why somebody like Steve Johnson wasn't jumping up and down about this.

They took this dive after ONLY ONE MONTH of deliberation? We're not talking peanuts here. Something's definitely wrong with this picture.

Why are the county commissioners not talking?

Anonymous said...

Okay this may be a dumb question but can anybody please give me the names of the county commissioners who are up for reelection. I want to make darn sure I don't accidentally vote for them.

Anonymous said...

I just read an outrageous charge against Ms. Gatton by a poster at 1:00 PM. This is clearly a person with deep resentments against Ms. Gatton's investigative reporting. This person wrote "This blog is earning a reputation for ... smearing people's names without evidence."

There are countless people in this community who view Ms. Gatton as a local heroine who has single handedly and with incredible courage gone up against serious and deep-seated corruption. The reputation of which you speak is a fabrication of your own mind and your own wishful thinking.

Exposing the corrupt and demanding the end to that corruption do not constitute "smearing without evidence." Those who have been disgraced stand condemned by their own actions and inactions.

This latest expose' is only the most recent example of that fact.

I challenge you to provide specific examples of when Ms. Gatton has "smeared people's names without evidence."

Anonymous said...

The representatives up for relection are Godfrey (Williams), Ken (Robertson). I'm pretty sure that's all.

Anonymous said...

It looks like the brush fire that started in Mooresville is spreading. Mooresville's failure to clean up its act is now resulting in closer scrutiny of the county, too. This is all good.

So if the county officials start feeling the blues over all that scrutiny, they can thank their counterparts in the Mooresville Town Hall for it.

Regardless, we need to get the word out that both incumbents (Williams & Robertson) should be voted out due to their failure to stand up against this shady land deal that took about five million dollars out of the county taxpayers' pockets - no questions asked.

Anonymous said...

SHAME on the county commissioners for sneaking this passed us. and SHAME on the Record & Landmark for not letting us know it was happening while it was happening so that we could all raise holy hell about it. I know for a fact they got a reporter at every one of those meetings. So why didn't we ever read about this? I voted for these people believing their conservative. I've been duped along with thousands of others.

Anonymous said...

This was alot to absorb. I don't know whether buying the land was a good decision or not but it doesn't look good. The government should really steer clear from deals that even look like there's something shady going on. If you are a part of the government and you involve people you are associated with in your business deals, you should tell the public upfront. This would help suspicions.Hasn't this lesson been learned yet?

Anonymous said...

You don’t have to be an Einstein to recognize this as flagrant cronyism if not worse.

Anonymous said...

These are some serious fools to think they could pull this stunt with Gatton around and a town/county full of whistleblowers! Dumb, dumber and dumbest.

Anonymous said...

Actually it looks like this all happened before this blog was up and running when they all thought the coast was clear. Hate it for ‘em. Now everybody and their uncle is gonna be talking about this rotten deal and the characters involved. Serves them right.

Anonymous said...

Long but thorough article Jamie. This is my favorite part: “Iredell County Manager Joel Mashburn said that the area had “traffic, noise and occasional odors.” Keath added that “methane gas (from the landfill) could occasionally be smelled (from the golf-course property), but only on a really hot day.”

Charming. So we are to believe THIS is the piece of property that Ben Thomas is telling us had “the potential of it being developed into a viable and attractive golf course community.” Yeah, right. It’s also the same property that the county thought was worth $4.75 MILLION DOLLARS, when Thomas had only paid $1.5 million for it just two years earlier?????? Come on. Do these people think we were all born yesterday? Somebody from the outside has got to be brought in to look into this from A to Z.

Anonymous said...

This was very disheartening to read. The silence of the County Commissioners is deafening and damning.

Anonymous said...

10:02's comment struck a nerve...

The Record and Landmark (AKA The Refuse & Landfill)has become totally useless in the last several years. (And now costs more!) It carries repeats of 3 day old news and associated press articles. Their main function seems to be liberal agenda feel good stories.

Any news that may cause the editors to be in the center of a conflict is quickly put aside. I am VERY thankful that Jamie has had the backbone and more importantly that she is driven by moral obligation to address issues of public concern.

The liberal mainstream media has deserted true Americans and left us stranded without a voice. Without a voice, government officials run the show unchecked. The only slim chance for control is at election time.

There have been those on here who have questioned the credibility of a stay home Mom. (Jamie) I would rather work two jobs than be a stay at home Mom. At least those of us who are in paid positions get sick days and can go home at night to get away from work. Nuff said.

Jamie has begun to put some oil on the squeaky wheels of justice in Iredell County by being willing to investigate issues and follow through with questions and fact checking. As 9:44 said, this started in Mooresville and has headed into the county. I'll add that this has the potential to expand into other local government agencies.

I find it amusing that most of the government officials who made the landfill/golfcourse decision now have no comment. Decisions to spend large amounts of taxpayers money should be made based on common sense and simplicity. Any questions about money spent should be easy to answer.

Decisions made based on agenda require a public statement based on the cumulative thoughts of those involved AFTER they have been filtered through an attorney.

No matter how things are worded, the truth is always the truth once all of the facts are dug out and displayed. It is dissapointing that it takes so long for the other side to give their response so all the facts can be considered. (If there are opposing facts.) I thank Jamie for having the fortitude it takes to deal with the stonewalling that our "leaders" have put in place to protect their best interests.

Time Traveler

Anonymous said...

This transaction must be fully investigated, if nothing else to remove the pall of suspicion that is sure to settle over the entire board of commissioners. This is a very serious matter, and failure to treat it as such can have dire and long lasting consequences.

Night Owl

Anonymous said...

Vic from Oct 28: Are you atheist? We would be alot better off if religion was the basis of many decisions!

Anonymous said...

8:43 I agree but let's fine tune that thought. Religion has ruined Christianity. It would be better if the basis of many decisions were spiritually based.

Anonymous said...

The silence of the commissioners is a sure sign something is rotten. Their arrogant indifference is an absolute confirmation they are guilty of something. Two alternatives come to mind: a cesspool of stupidity motivated by a blind desire to please Ms. Tice and Mr. Mashburn, who were conspiring with Ben Thomas; or, participation in outright fraud, which was designed to provide some sort of payoff.
In either case,they all have to be replaced.
They could all resign, or the Attorney General could investigate. and if it is determined stupidity was not the cause, they could be charged and suffer the consequences.

Anonymous said...

Mark Vanek (Commissionser candidate) questioned the lease arrangement in the R&L today. He predicted the new lease would revert back to Twin Oaks LLC. Why? Because the County bought the course and did not include any inventory of operating equipment required to operate. Twin Oaks LLC kept the ownership of the equipment. Ask the 3 other bidders how they were to compete with Twin Oaks LLC which had a huge financial advantage. The county continued the inside negotiations with the Twin Oaks LLC that shut out any competitive bidding. Ask the other bidders!! There are state statutes governing exactly how this process governs public owned property for lease. Unfortunately, the county ignores these laws.

The county will operate this course for 25 years according to Mashburn, but the commissioners state they are not in the golf business.

Anonymous said...

I hear there is an auto parts store for sale near the dump. Let's have Commissioner Johnson vote on buying it with taxpayer dollars, subsidize it with taxpayer dollars, reduce the assessed value to avoid paying taxes, lease it back to the present owner, and operate it in direct competition with all other auto parts businesses, including his. We won't call it an auto parts business because we will use it for the dump...... eventually. Do you think he will vote for this?

Anonymous said...

The function of government is supposed to be to provide essential services. Golf courses and cable companies are not essential services.

Anonymous said...

If a skate park can fall under Recreation, so can a golf course.

Anonymous said...

Good..while we're at it.....I like to bowl but it's expensive. If Mooresville would buy a bowling alley I could go every week. Don't worry....I'll buy my own shoes. The taxpayers don't need to buy EVERYTHING.

Anonymous said...

Want to know how great a deal this is for the taxpayer especially with the great income from the new lease? At 5% interest the 4.7 million will cost the taxpayers over 25 years the following:

Loan Summary
$27,475.73 (Monthly Principal & Interest) $8,242,719.59 (Total of Payments)
$3,542,719.59 (Total Interest Paid)
Sep, 2033 (Pay-off Date)

Eminent domain? It is no problem for the county to use eminent domain elswhere, yet the emergency required to settle this deal is justified?

Anonymous said...

NC has laws regarding assessed tax values!! Obviously, we all are paying too much based on the asessment in this deal. It is hard to argue the facts. You decide:

Article 13 Standards for Appraisal and Assessment
§ 105‑283. Uniform appraisal standards.

All property, real and personal, shall as far as practicable be appraised or valued at its true value in money. When used in this Subchapter, the words "true value" shall be interpreted as meaning market value, that is, the price estimated in terms of money at which the property would change hands between a willing and financially able buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of all the uses to which the property is adapted and for which it is capable of being used. For the purposes of this section, the acquisition of an interest in land by an entity having the power of eminent domain with respect to the interest acquired shall not be considered competent evidence of the true value in money of comparable land. (1939, c. 310, s. 500; 1953, c. 970, s. 5; 1955, c. 1100, s. 2; 1959, c. 682; 1967, c. 892, s. 7; 1969, c. 945, s. 1; 1971, c. 806, s. 1; 1973, c. 695, s. 11; 1977, 2nd Sess., c. 1297.)

§ 105-284. Uniform assessment standard.

(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, all property, real and personal, shall be assessed for taxation at its true value or use value as determined under G.S. 105‑283 or G.S. 105-277.6, and taxes levied by all counties and municipalities shall be levied uniformly on assessments determined in accordance with this section.

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that the county has the right to "condemn" any land it needs when it needs it as long as it pays the assessed (or "fair) value of that land. So, if the county indeed needed this piece of property so badly, why did it not simply "condemn" it, saving the taxpayer nearly $3,000,000? Perhaps an even more important question is why would Ben Thomas, an attorney, put himself at such a high risk by purchasing that specific piece of property, knowing it is next to the county's landfill and may be subject to one day being condemned? Unless, of course, he felt confident through his connections and inside information that he would not be at such a risk?

Anonymous said...

Jaime, this column is putting me to sleep. Is this the best you can do for news?

Anonymous said...

Jaime: is 2:01Pm Ben???? It sounds like someone who doesn,t want to hear more about the 4.75M donation.

Anonymous said...

is it any coincidence that people started asking questions and then all of a sudden joel mashburn whos been county manager for 20 years announces in aug. that hes retiring.........and sara haire has decided that shes had enough and shes leaving the county board? makes you say hmmmmmm......

Anonymous said...

So, 2:01 P.M., since when is it sleep-inducing for you to hear about the H-I-G-H-W-A-Y R-O-B-B-E-R-Y of MILLIONS OF DOLLARS of our tax money? The fact that THIS story BORES you puts you on quite a short list of Usual Suspects.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read the comments of 2:01.
Not one idea,nor sign of comprehension!He/She must be wealthy or stupid,if a$4.75 million robery causes insomnia.
Either didn't read the information,or didn,t understand the words, in which case we can conclude the brain lacks oxygen,and there is no control of any bodily functions.

Anonymous said...

Maybe he's still sleeping. Probably a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Previous post have requested an explanation of the MDC's decision to hire Kim Adkins. Evidently the MDC does not feel they have to answer to the taxpayers of the Town that subsidize them. I for one say if they are this independent, then they certainly don't need my tax money. It is time for the Town Board to suspend any further funding of the organization. I suppose the $50,000 check for FY 2009 has already been written. If not, it should be stopped immediately until everyone is comfortable the decisions of the MDC are consistent with the goals and objectives of the Town and not cronism run amuck. . . again. The MDC meets tomorrow 11-5 I believe. Do you suppose they will address these issues at that meeting? Probably not. They'll all gather together and agree amongst themselves that they are more intelligent the taxpayers that subsidize them, pat themselves on the back for their decision, and go on their merry way . . . with my tax money.

Anonymous said...

Playing catchup on this blog. Interesting and disturbing story here. Read a comment by a previous poster who said " Turns out sure enough Woody Washam was one of the local businessmen who signed that infamous letter of support for the former police chief who's now under investigation for fraud. And it turns out that Ben Thomas was the lawyer who supposedly incorporated the Cops For Kids charity that the former chief is now accused of having defrauded.

It also turns out that Ben Thomas, Woody Washam, Joel Mashburn and Sara Haire Tice all sit on a secretive board called the SICDC together, along with Bill Thunberg. Same organization that Mooresville's mayor Thunberg tried to pretty much hand over $350,000 in the form of collateral to. The Gatton Report exposed that of course."

I haven't read all the previous articles or comments. Anybody know if this is all true?

Anonymous said...

Looks like these fools got back into office. I guess we're going to have to watch them like hawks from now on in case they get the itch to give away millions of dollars of county tax dollars again.

Andy Maylish said...

You would never think that American political business would have a foundation of greed and fraud. And as far as "condeming land" that falls under "eminent domain"(Webster's Dictionary)and law.

Anonymous said...

Can I get on one of these "boards" and get cozy with some county commissioners so that they can give me the heads up one day to buy a piece of land cheap and then wink & nod that they'll buy it from me for three times what it's worth a couple of years later? Pretty please, can I, can I?

Anonymous said...

Actually it is usually very easy to be selected for one of these "boards" or "committees". Go to http://www.co.iredell.nc.us/committe.asp and look over the committees and decide which one(s) you would like to serve on. Then download the form at http://www.co.iredell.nc.us/Application_to_Serve.pdf. Your application will stay on file for several years. Most of these boards are never full because the county can not find people to volunteer to serve on them. If you will look at the minutes of the October 7, 2008 commissioners meeting on page 19 you will see that appoints to five different committees/boards had to be postponed because no one had been nominated to serve (yes you can nominate yourself).

Anonymous said...

Your post about board seats going empty is pretty much correct. However, certain board seats have real influence or percs that make them real cherries and are highly coveted. Guess who gets those seats? Meanwhile those boards dealing with the mundate i.e. library board, beautification etc. go pretty much to anyone with enough civic gumption to sign up. You sign up for one of the cherry postions and see how long it takes your phone to ring. Plus, you might think the highly desirable seats would have term limits that allowed a variety of the population to serve on them but that is hardly the case. Just take a look at these boards and look at how long some of those people have served. Some of them seem to be appointed for life. And by the way, don't worry about qualifications. You certainly don't have to be qualified. Just a crony. . . . .as usual.

Anonymous said...

Nice try to hoodwink us, 10:10 A.M.

And thanks, 4:08 P.M. for calling them on their party line B.S.

Go take a good look at something like the SICDC and you'll see the same names over and over and over and over again. Then they spawned themselves into the EDC. Both secretive little gangs that get hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax dollars but don't comply with the Sunshine Laws.

The result? This articles says it all.

Anonymous said...

Not trying to hook wink anyone, there are certainly some exclusive boards and commissions. There are also certain requirements for many "seats" on these boards such you must represent the business community, or you must be a county commissioner, or designee of the Chamber of Commerce and etc. However, almost all the government boards and commissions have a limited number of seats for members of the community. And yes, I do agree there should be term limits on most positions, elected and appointed.

Jamie does a great job in fact finding and exposing corruption, that is why I read this blog. Jamie goes about this in a very professional manner. It truly sickens me to read about how my tax money is wasted or issues with MPD. I am actually on your side; I am just not sure that the sarcastic comments of many posters will ever change the system.

My suggestion, although maybe over simplified, is about how we change the system. We can not change it sitting behind a computer complaining to each other. Only temporary change will come from protesting at TOM meetings and etc. It is like a football game, you can cheer and complain from the sidelines all you want, but you are not going to be able to help change the score unless you are in the ball game. How do we get into the game?

Anonymous said...

Commissioners decided to change existing golf course operators lease for inability to pay and convenience of lessee. 3 months rent uncollected $6000.00 (tax payers subsidize renter). What good is a lease if it can be changed at taxpayer expense? Try getting $6000 reduced from your real estate taxes.