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Land transaction issue dominates commission meeting

Oct 6th, 2011 | 0


Walton County commissioners spent a large portion of their meeting time on Sept. 27 discussing a land transaction that had taken place almost a year earlier.

The discussion took place at the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) fourth Tuesday regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse. The transaction was the county’s acquisition of a half-acre parcel at the southwestern corner of the intersection of Chat Holley Road and U.S. 331. The land had been obtained for use with a county road improvement project on Chat Holley Road. The project is ongoing at this time.

On Sept. 19, Walton County Administrator Greg Kisela had told the Herald/Breeze that administration was investigating a 1917 deed that had recently surfaced. He explained that the deed seemed to indicate that Walton County had ownership of a 33 foot by 1,330 foot portion of the property prior to the county paying 331 Bayside Properties, L.L.C., $364,000 for the half-acre parcel on Oct. 8, 2010.

At the Sept. 27 meeting, Kisela presented the BCC with 11 pages of information provided by Lloyd Blue of 331 Bayside Properties, L.L.C. Blue had asked Tallahassee real estate/land use attorney Charles R. Gardner to review title information on the property and furnish an opinion on its ownership prior to the county’s Oct. 8 transaction with Bayside Properties, L.L.C.

Gardner’s report indicated that, while the 33-foot-wide strip within the parcel had been transferred to the county for use as a public road by James Weston through the 1917 deed, the county had subsequently conveyed title to the strip, along with other property, to another party. He added that in 1930 the strip had been conveyed along with other property to W.A. Holley or “Chat” Holley, for whom the road was named.

In the opinion, Gardner stated he was “firmly convinced that the 2010 County Deed did not include any property previously owned by the County and, specifically, did not include the 33-foot wide strip…” While the 1917 deed had been listed as an exception to the title in the Oct. 8 transaction, Gardner opined that he could only surmise that this had been done “out of an abundance of caution.”

While observing that Gardner’s report had provided the county with a considerable amount of new information on the property, Kisela recommended that the BCC obtain a real estate special counsel for further investigation. He estimated that such an investigation could be concluded within 30 days.

District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander was also of the opinion that outside special counsel was needed to review the process of the land purchase. She said the BCC needed the public to see that they were being transparent with regard to the issue. Comander also called for County Attorney Lynn Hoshihara to be put on paid administrative leave during the review period.

George Ralph Miller had overseen the purchase as special legal counsel to the Office of the County Attorney, and his contract with the county had been terminated by Hoshihara on Sept. 15.

Comander motioned that Hoshihara’s be placed on administrative leave, with her duties being temporarily handled by another attorney under contract with the county’s attorney’s office. She maintained that a “serious look” was warranted at “policies and procedures” and why they had not been followed with the purchase.

District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen commented that it would be a “challenge” for the BCC to continue to operate with Hoshihara on administrative leave. He was concerned about the handling of the day-to-day operations of the legal department if she were put on leave.

“I think we’re acting very prematurely,” District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones said of Comander’s recommendation regarding Hoshihara.

Comander responded that a contract attorney had already been dismissed “without taking time to find the facts.” She said, “I think the people want us to find the truth.”

“I support the motion,” District 1 Commissioner Scott Brannon stated.

The motion failed in a 2-3 vote, with only Comander and Brannon voting in favor.

A number of citizens took the opportunity to comment on the matter.

Among them was Suzanne Harris of Edgewater Beach Condominiums. “The buck stops with Lynn,” Harris asserted. She questioned whether Florida statute was followed with the purchase and charged that Alexa Pleas, who had signed the closing papers as designated agent for 331 Bayside Properties, L.L.C, did not own the property and was not a member of the L.L.C.

“Y’all don’t have a legal contract,” Harris alleged.

She urged for a reconsideration of Comander’s previous motion.

Comander then moved to hire outside legal counsel “to take a look at this from the deed to the contract,” and “get to the bottom of this.”

That motion carried unanimously….

Read the full story in the October 6, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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