By DOTTY NIST
County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the independent report on Walton County’s October 2010 purchase of property at the southwest corner of the Chat Holley Road/U.S. 98 intersection.
This is to occur at the Nov. 8 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting, which is to begin at 4 p.m. and take place at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
The report had previously appeared on the agenda for the Oct. 25 BCC meeting, and copies of the 14-page report were made available to the public at that meeting. At the request of, and through a motion by District 1 Commissioner Scott Brannon at that meeting, the agenda item was rescheduled for the Nov. 8 meeting.
Brannon said he had not received a copy of the report until the previous afternoon and had not been able to look at it until approximately 9 or 10 p.m. While emphasizing that in no way was he seeking to change anything in the report or direct the investigation, he commented that a complete list of people furnishing information in the investigation had not been provided to the commissioners. Brannon noted that a number of people with knowledge of the transaction may not have been questioned by the people conducting the investigation.
Brannon added that he would like to be afforded time to understand the report better and ask questions of the independent counsel that the county had enlisted to prepare the report.
About one month earlier, after potential issues with the purchase of the half-acre parcel surfaced, the BCC had directed the independent review of the transaction. The investigation and report were assigned to William B. Graham of Carr Allison and George H. Gwynn of Williams, Gautier, Gwynn, DeLoach & Sorenson, P.A.
In preparing the report, Graham and Gwynn met with and interviewed a number of people with knowledge of the transaction, including: all five county commissioners; county staff members; former County Administrator Lyle Seigler; staff members of Preble-Rish, engineering consulting firm for the county; TDC Executive Director Dawn Moliterno; Lloyd Blue’s legal counsel; George Ralph Miller, special legal counsel for the purchase transaction; and current County Attorney Lynn Hoshihara.
The report included a “factual background and overview” of the transaction, beginning in 2009 with development of plans by Preble-Rish for the resurfacing of Chat Holley Road.
According to the report:
“The county, in consultation with Preble-Rish, determined that there was a need for additional right-of-way to construct a right-hand turn lane that allowed stacking of cars turning right onto 331.”
At the request of then-County Administrator Lyle Seigler, the state Department of Transporation (DOT) approved the use by the county of some funds for the road project from its Proportional Fair Share account, for the purpose of constructing sidewalks and other improvements, including a traffic light. With use of the funds came the requirement that the intersection be configured in a perpendicular arrangement for safety. For that design, it was determined that the acquisition of additional property at the southwest corner of the intersection would be required.
Lloyd Blue, owner of property adjacent to Chat Holley Road and commercial property across the street from the Chat Holley parcel, subsequently inquired “as to the nature of the improvements being considered.”
At approximately the same time, the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) was considering whether to build a new welcome center and move its current office. Blue suggested the vicinity of the southwestern corner of the U.S. 331/Chat Holley Road as an appropriate location for these TDC facilities, preparing a conceptual plan for the welcome center at that location and meeting with TDC representatives regarding this possibility. The TDC later gave up pursuit of locating in that area.
With work by the county on the road design process continuing, Seigler presented a proposal for the purchase of the half-acre parcel to the BCC on Aug. 24, 2010. “The BCC voted 4-0 in favor of the purchase and approved the sum of $345,000 to acquire the .45-acre parcel as part of the overall cost of the project which was approximately $1,025.00.” County Commissioner Scott Brannon, board chair at the time, was not present for the meeting.
At the time of the purchase approval by the BCC, some commissioners were aware that the seller of the parcel was 331 Bayside Properties, L.L.C., and some were not. The members of that L.L.C. are Lloyd Blue and wife Alexa Pleas.
“Section 286.23, Florida Statutes, requires the disclosure of the ownership of the L.L.C. when selling real property to the county. This was not done, and it appears that the legal counsel for the county was unaware of this requirement.”
Brannon and Pleas signed a purchase contract for the property, prepared on behalf of the L.L.C., in September 2010. Its terms required an Oct. 8, 2010 closing. George Ralph Miller, special counsel for the county at that time, was requested to “represent the county’s interest in the transaction.”
Read the full story in the November 3, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.