published: Friday, November 30, 2012
Purchase of clay pit may be probed
ROXANNE BROWN | Staff Report
City officials in Mascotte may open an investigation into the controversial $1.5 million purchase of a clay pit in 2006.
This comes after a city resident questioned the purchase, and dealings surrounding it, during a council meeting last week -- including allegations of possible kickbacks and graft.
"He said the pit we bought was priced way too much and said some fishy stuff went down with the deal; dishonest transactions and deposits as told to him by a teller who worked at the bank the city used at the time," Councilman Stephen Elmore said. "He made some pretty inflammatory accusations to the point that they couldn't be ignored. You can't hear something like that and just be like, 'OK, whatever.'"
City Manager Jim Gleason said the citizen was concerned that the city greatly overpaid for the property and asked could an elected official and or city employee have benefited from the purchase.
"I cannot not speculate on the goal or why this has been raised now but I hope the matter is brought to proper closure for the citizens of Mascotte. The question has been raised and the council felt it was important to have this matter taken seriously to ensure all the facts are known," Gleason said.
At the meeting, council members de-cided they would "look into it."
The city attorney was not present at the meeting, so officials were consulting with her to field options.
On Wednes-day, Gleason said that to make sure the investigation could not be called biased if done by the city, Police Chief Ronaldo Banasco contacted an outside agency to handle the investigation.
"Of course, we are interested in whatever the truth is," Elmore said.
Mayor Tony Rosado said: "What we want to know is whether or not the price the city paid for the clay pit when it was purchased was inflated greatly and whether or not city officials knew it."
In 2006, when the city purchased the clay pit for $1.5 million, the intentions were to turn it into a retention pond.
The million-dollar question is why the price paid was about 12 times higher than what the property owner bought the land for originally, even though the property was appraised for $120,000 in 2001.
According to records, the owners of the property -- who paid about $75,000 for it in 2002 -- were the Langleys, a prominent local family that included attorney and former state Sen. Richard Langley.
Then-Mayor Jeff Krull said the pit was originally to be used for construction debris, an idea that was scrapped after officials deemed the road where it sits as too narrow for sand trucks.
"That road barely fits two cars driving on it, let alone big trucks like those that would be used for dumping debris," said Councilwoman Barbara Krull.
After that, the city thought it could be used to relieve the overflow from Lake Jackson but that idea was also scrapped when officials figured out that water could be piped from the lake into the pit, but couldn't be piped back.
"They (sellers) made it sound like roses were gonna grow in December," said Jeff Krull, who sat the council as mayor in 2006. He said that questions surrounding the jump in price of the pit have always lingered in the minds of many people in town -- his included.
Rosado said he was told the increase in price had to do with the 'future value' of the pit instead of the 'actual appraised value' of it at the time.
"The council was told it was based on future value, and apparently it wasn't questioned, but to me, when you're going on future value, you're going on hopes and dreams. No purchase should be made solely on the basis of hopes and dreams unless it's a lottery ticket," he said. "It would be nice to get to the bottom of this."
Today, the pit, which measures about 200 feet wide by 250 feet long and 60 feet deep, is overgrown with weeds and trees.
"Cubic wise, there's plenty of room in that pit, but for what?" Krull now asks. "The question has always been on everybody's mind about the $1.5 million spent so I'm glad that somebody finally brought it up and got somebody's attention so that it can be looked into. It's a good thing. After all, the results of that expenditure is what's depleting the town to this day," Krull said.
Elmore said he feels the pit was not a wise purchase, but said council members -- including him -- were depending on information relayed by staff and other officials and they trusted in what was being told to them.
"It's easy for people to look back and say it wasn't a good deal, but it's not that simple. However, after many things were later made known and looking back on it now myself, voting for the clay pit at that time is probably the one big regret I have from being on the council," Elmore said. "But as far as anything dishonest happening, I don't know anything personally, so looking into it would be good."
Gleason said no current staff was involved in the project at the time, adding that he hopes "that this was simply a poor business investment for the city at a difficult time in the country's economy."
In addition, Gleason said that since the matter has been reported to an outside law enforcement agency for investigation, no further comments can be made until a full report is released in conclusion.