For the second time in two months, Winder city officials have waited until after closing a real estate deal before disclosing it to the public. Advised by city attorney John Stell that the council’s secret purchases of real estate meet the provisions of the recently amended Georgia Open Meetings Act, the council voted Tuesday night to “ratify” a vote it took in a closed session four months ago to buy a small parcel on Loganville Highway for $20,000.
The Barrow Journal disagrees with Stell’s opinion that a government agency can complete a land deal in secret and has asked for the Georgia Attorney General’s Office to render an opinion.
“Our view, backed by Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson, is that an agency buying land is supposed to vote in public to affirm the deal before any closing takes place,” said co-publisher Mike Buffington. “Mr. Stell is advising Winder that they can do the entire deal, including the closing, before the council holds a public vote. But if the entire deal can be done in secret as Mr. Stell says, then why does the law call for a public vote? That’s illogical since the law clearly says a public agency must vote in public before concluding any real estate transaction. We believe Mr. Stell is giving the Winder City Council mistaken legal advice and we’ve asked the AG’s office to give us their interpretation since they are the ones who wrote the new law last year.”
Following Tuesday night’s public meeting, the mayor and council went behind closed doors again to discuss a third potential purchase of real estate. The council took no public action after that discussion, but the property under consideration is the “Homeport Farm Market” site owned by Rep. Terry England. Mayor David Maynard said he could not talk about what is discussed in closed sessions, but he did release a statement Tuesday to dispel a widely circulating rumor that the city already has purchased England’s property.
“Contrary to the rumors, the City of Winder has not purchased or agreed to purchase the ‘Homeport’ property,” Maynard wrote. “The Mayor and Council are studying the feasibility of the property being used by the Utility Department. No determination has been made yet.”
For the full story, see the Sept. 12 issue of the Barrow Journal.
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