Town investigation into property no-sale takes shape

The town has hired a central NC law firm to investigate the recent negotiations for selling town property, and the contentious reactions since.

Board members hope the investigation will shed some light (and the Bee hopes there will be some kind of consensus of the public as well) on the actual timelines and facts of the process that went into the proposal, rather than just focusing on the aftermath of allegations and charged descriptions that have become the case. As Commissioner Jessie Bellflowers has said, “the air needs to be cleared.”

Though the investigation will be an important step in the process, what the citizens make of the findings will have more impact on the future of the town. The contentious process started a little over a year ago and continued through most of 2018. The town’s investigation goes back to December 2017, right after the last town election. The Lone Star Foundation, a non-profit veterans’ group based in Texas, worked with the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation to find land for a rehabilitation complex in the area, and after a planned purchase in Linden didn’t work out, they settled on acreage in the area of Lake #2, which involves private property as well as town property. Teddy Warner, the mayor’s son, works for the FCCEDC, and the mayor and several other town staff were involved in the negotiations before the proposal was made, but most of the board says they didn’t hear much if anything about the sale until the idea to purchase (without many specifics) was presented in a June 4 closed session.

At the time, and a couple of times since, the board has refused to negotiate to sell the property, which wasn’t officially for sale, to anyone, not just the Lone Survivor Foundation. Since then (we’re citing this timing, since no one really knows what went on in the closed sessions Ed. to add “we have minutes of decisions, but when you read emotionally-charged descriptions of what goes on in there from one source or another” they’re usually going to be exaggerated), board members have cited non-specific but currently-studied Parks and Recreation plans, as well as other land use and watershed plans that have figured into their individual decisions.

Some local publications have had a field day with their imaginations and allegations about the timelines . Some citizens and board members also have made their support of the purchase/sale obvious, and some have made their disdain for non-supporters just as obvious. All these conclusions have been drawn despite the fact that we only know what we know about the process from the publicly-disclosed evidence, which at this point has a lot of holes in it. Thus, we have an investigation to make more things clearer.

James P. Cauley III of the Cauley Pridgen law firm, which has offices in Wilson, Kinston, and Raleigh, will conduct the investigation. The N. C. League of Municipalities recommeded Cauley, who specialized in municipal property law, to the town. There is no specific timeline for completion, but Town Attorney Dan Hartzog says it should only involve a couple of trips to town for the investigator.

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