Citizens press Prince for answers about deal to sell lake property
County residents sought to know more information about discussions Grady County Commission Chairman Ray Prince says he has had with potential investors interested in purchasing all of the county’s property around Tired Creek Lake.
Prince commented at public hearings last week that discussions were ongoing with potential investors, but the other commissioners were unaware of any details about what Prince was talking about.
During Tuesday night’s third and final public hearing on the proposed tax hike, a number of questions about the potential sale of the property were asked of the chairman.
In response to comments made Tuesday night by Alan Parks concerning county spending on the lake project, Chairman Prince said that if it were not for the lake the county would be in excellent financial condition and the county roads would not be in a state of disrepair.
Prince said he was discussing a possible sale with an individual who “has two different individuals” who may be interested.
“How many people have got that kind of money?” Parks asked and Chairman Prince replied, “You would be surprised.”
Grady County resident Mike Bishop told commissioners that he had thought about Chairman Prince’s comments all week. Bishop said the only way for the county to get out from under the debt was to sell the lake and stop looking for potential developers, but to seek potential buyers.
Wanda Steele, who said she had dealt with the lake project her entire life, questioned if the county could even sell the property without the approval of the Georgia General Assembly and the State Properties Commission. “It really needs to be sold, but let’s do it the right way,” Steele said.
Dan Steele asked Chairman Prince that if people are looking to purchase the lake what is the sale price.
“That’s still negotiable,” Chairman Prince said.
“So, you’ve talked to people, but you don’t know the sale price or the fair market value of it?” Dan Steele asked.
“I’ve tried to get them to get an appraisal for months,” Prince responded.
Betty Godwin, a resident of Pine Park Road, questioned why the chief appraiser in the tax assessors office had not been asked to appraise the property. “She has no problem appraising mine,” Ms. Godwin said.
Local resident Gordon Clyatt questioned how Prince could be discussing a sale without the other four commissioners being aware of it or authorizing it. “You have no authority to negotiate without the other four approving it,” Clyatt said.
Clyatt also questioned the performance of consultant Will Butler. He said the consultant did not have much incentive to get the property sold if he continued to get paid each month and he recommended the county fire him.
Richard Jordan said that Butler remains on the job due to the support of Commissioners T.D. David, LaFaye Copeland and Keith Moye. Jordan said that they were part of the problem if they would not cut out Butler’s services and go in another direction. He asked each of the commissioners if they would support terminating the agreement with Butler during the public hearing. Both David and Copeland said they would not until having the opportunity to talk with Butler first, Moye said he would consider it and Prince and Commissioner June Knight said they would vote to end the county’s month-to-month agreement with the consultant.
Jordan described Butler as a “wonderful salesman” who could sell igloos to Eskimos, but he questioned what Butler had accomplished for the $5,750 a month he is being paid.
Commissioner Copeland said the delay in releasing the Request for Qualifications, which Prince and Knight opposed, had slowed Butler from being able to market the lake project to potential investors.
According to Commissioner Copeland, she and Chairman Prince have a meeting with Butler today, Wednesday, Aug. 15.
Prince told the audience Tuesday night the only reason the Grady County Lake Authority was created was to be able to negotiate the sale of the property. “We can’t sell the land, but the authority can,” he said.
The only legal way the county could sell the property would be to declare it surplus and advertise it for sale to the highest bidder. However, the lake authority could negotiate a sale of the property if the property ownership is transferred to the authority.
Betty Godwin challenged him and stated that the county owns the land, not the authority. “I know that,” Chairman Prince said.
Gordon Clyatt then asked why the lake authority was not negotiating with the potential buyers. “That’s what Will is supposed to do,” Prince said.
Local resident Feraby Moye then asked the board if the names of the potential buyers had been shared with Butler or the lake authority.
“Not yet. We’re meeting with him tomorrow,” Chairman Prince said.
Mrs. Moye said, “It’s unfair to say you’ll fire him if he doesn’t know these buyers exist.”
Following the conclusion of the public hearing, the commissioners moved downstairs to the board room to contemplate the millage rate and budget as well as other formal actions on the agenda.
Following the adoption of the millage and approval of the budget, former commissioner Charles Renaud asked if the chairman was going to allow public comment. Prince recognized Renaud and welcomed him to speak.
“I had left, but I came back,” Renaud said. He said that he had asked his commissioner, LaFaye Copeland, what she knew about the discussions the chairman had had with potential buyers of the lake and she did not know anything other than Prince had made those comments at last week’s public hearings. Renaud questioned under what authority Prince could negotiate with prospective buyers.
Chairman Prince insisted there had been no negotiations only conversations with one individual who had two different interested parties who had expressed interest.
Renaud took issue with Prince calling for consultant Will Butler’s “head” without even sharing the information about the prospective buyers with either the board or the county’s consultant. Prince said he would be talking with Butler Wednesday.
“It’s beyond me how y’all can continue to run this county like that. A day of reckoning is coming,” Renaud said before exiting the meeting room.