New law might bury city's land deal

August 01, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Even if Danville City Commissioners "closed" a deal for 3.5 acres put aside for Hilldale Cemetery expansion, it may not be able to sell it without a public auction, according to a new state law.

Commissioners have said someone came to them with a proposal about the land, and that they've met twice behind closed doors to discuss it.

Norm Bartleson, president of the NAACP chapter here, has gone into those executive sessions, but has refused to comment except to say that it was time for Duncan Hill to be "cleaned up."

A law that went into effect in July provides guidelines for the sale of public property. There must be a written description of:


* The property.

* Its intended use at the time of acquisition.

* Why it's in the public interest to dispose of it.

* The method of disposition to be used.

No such document has been produced, at least publicly, about the land.

"We've made no decision of any kind," Commissioner Terry Crowley said in a telephone interview. "We don't intend to until we have a lot more information."

He hadn't read the law. Neither had City Attorney Ed Hays.

The reason the city gave to discuss it in executive session was that a public discussion could affect the price of the property, an exception in the open meeting law.

Crowley said that commissioners listened to the proposal, but that they had no discussion that would affect its price, just about how to determine a price.

The new law gives cities restricted options about how a piece of property can be sold.

It may be transferred, for a price or for free, to another government agency or for economic development. Or it can be sold at public auction, electronic auction or by sealed bids. If no bids are received, it can be disposed of "in any manner deemed appropriate by the city."

Any profit made from a sale has to go to the city's general fund.

Hays said he hadn't read the new law, but he defended the commissioners recent decision to go behind closed doors to discuss whether they should talk publicly about the Hilldale proposal.

"That conversation was legal," he said.

Hays said that while the law didn't explicitly say the city could discuss such an issue in executive session, logically, there wasn't any other way to do it.

He said that a public discussion could affect the price because if the community knew someone had offered to buy city property then an adjoining landowner might offer the buyer a piece of property next to it for less money.

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