Editorial: Sale of cemetery property should be discussed openly

July 28, 2004

The Danville City Commission's decision to go behind closed doors to discuss the possibility of selling cemetery land on Duncan Hill to a private developer is totally wrong-headed.

We'll leave the question of whether the practice is legal up to the lawyers, but there's no question that making such a decision in secret is, at the least, putting the cart before the horse.

Apparently, discussions about this issue have taken place behind closed doors for a couple of months, and only Monday after a resident opposed the sale at city commission meeting did the mayor confirm that the city was considering selling a piece of property owned by the taxpayers of Danville.

We're not prepared to say whether the 3.5 acres given to the city by the black community in 1962 for use as a cemetery should be sold. How could anyone other than the mayor and the four commissioners have an opinion when the public has not been given the facts or heard public discussion?


But there are obviously serious questions that need to be answered in public before a decision is made. The paramount question is whether the land is still needed for a cemetery. How can commissioners know the answer without hearing from members of Danville's black community?

Perhaps by talking in secret about the sale of public land the commissioners hope to avoid the controversy of public discussion, but how can they be sure they are making the right decision without hearing all points of view?

Furthermore, before the commissioners make any official contact with people who want to buy city land, they should first discuss and decide in public whether the land is still needed by the city or should be sold. Such discussion should in no way affect the price of the land or violate the privacy of any developer who wished to purchase it.

The city commission's first obligation is not to any private person who wishes to purchase a piece of city property, whether it be land or a used fire truck, but to the taxpayers and voters. Certainly it is not proper to negotiate privately with any individual who decides to make an offer for some city asset without first deciding that the asset is for sale.

When the city wants to sell a used backhoe or some other piece of equipment, does it negotiate with the potential buyer in secret before the public even knows the equipment is for sale? What would prevent commissioners from making sweetheart deals with their cronies?

Clearly, that's not the way public agencies normally handle the sale of property or assets. First, they decide whether the property should be sold. Then they advertise the property for sale so that they can be assured of getting the best price possible for the taxpayers.

But for some reason - probably to avoid a public controversy - the commission decided to handle the sale of this particular city asset behind closed doors. The commission's lawyer may believe that's a legal way to dispose of the taxpayers' property, but he'll never convince us that it is the right way to do it.

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