The Mingo County prosecutor appeared before the Williamson City Council Nov. 14 in response to a motion by three council members that the mayor be investigated for possible misconduct in the purchase of the former Williamson High School complex.
WHS was closed in 2011 and the Mingo County Board of Education sold the property to the Mingo County Commission on a pass-through agreement with the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority. The county purchased the property with the purpose of creating a judicial annex on the property for the magistrate court. An economic decline derailed that project.
Amid controversy over the county renting a portion of the complex, the commission subsequently sold the property at public auction. Cheyl Lycan won the auction with a bid of $800,500. At a commission meeting to finalize the sale, she requested property be placed in the name of HKL LLC. HKL is an acronym for the corporation’s principals — Mayor Charlie Hatfield, Sam Kapourales and Joe and Cheryl Lycan.
During a heated city council meeting on Sept. 26, Councilman Randy Price pushed for a motion to investigate the mayor, however, Hatfield repeatedly told Price the agenda item only called for discussion. Because of that, Price was unable to make the motion. That action came back at the next meeting on Oct. 10 and was passed on a vote of 3-1.
After that, all documents in the matter were handed over to Mingo County Prosecutor Duke Jewell for review and an opinion on the issue “how Mayor Charles Hatfield came to claim ownership of property that may belong to the City of Williamson.”
Jewell’s answer was that he found no evidence of criminal intent.
“There is no one that could convince me that the county or anybody else did anything wrong,” Jewell’s decision said. “There was no criminal intent in this matter. There was absolute good faith all around.
“There is not enough evidence to file a legal action,” he continued. “Your motion was fatally flawed when you used the word ‘may.’ I don’t deal in ‘may.’ I deal in crimes committed and proof submitted beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He went on to give several reasons as to why the lease agreements submitted by Price could possibly not be valid. First, Jewell said, the lease was between the City of Williamson and the Williamson Independent School Association, “an entity that has not been existence since before any of us were even born.”
Another reason is that there is no evidence that the lease pertains to the property in question. Jewell also added that he is under the understanding that, under state code, any property a school board has for five or more years becomes vested by the board.
According to Hatfield, the question regarding the deed to the property surfaced two months after the sale of the complex was finalized somewhere around December 2018 or January 2019. The person conducting the title search for the bank through which HKL LLC was obtaining a mortgage found document.
“None of us knew (the lease agreement) was there. You don’t buy property if there are problems like this,” Hatfield said. “I brought the matter to the city attorney.”
“What bothers me most is that you didn’t have the common courtesy to tell any of the members of the city council anything about this,” Councilwoman Sherri Hairston Brown said. “Yes, we all got upset. You felt like it was none of our business.
“We were giving you the benefit of the doubt to come to us,” she continued. “We were patiently waiting to see if you would do it and you didn’t.”
“I’ve been patiently waiting on the county commission,” Hatfield countered. “I brought it to the council by bringing it to our city attorney who had to recuse himself because he also works for the prosecutor’s office.”
Jewell also said he could not be involved in the matter either because under statute as a county prosecutor he cannot do anything that would adversely affect the county commission. He added that he came to the council meeting only as a courtesy to explain the method in which the sale was conducted.
“So we’re just left out in the cold, in other words,” Brown said making the last comment on the issue. “The city attorney can’t help us and you can’t help us. So we’re just (expletive deleted) out of luck.”
The property discussion, however, found itself carried over into other topics. Tonya Webb, vice president of the Tug Valley Area CVB was next on the agenda to discuss upcoming city Christmas events in correlation with the chamber of commerce’s Small Business Saturday promotion on Saturday, Nov. 30.
“I don’t have the heart to discuss Christmas right now.” Webb said through tears. “I am disappointed with all of you. This witch hunting and name calling has got to stop or our city is not going to grow. This was never in question 10-15 years ago, but now, all of a sudden, it’s an ordeal? Do you know how hard it is to recruit people to come here when you know that you’re walking down the streets and people are stabbing each other in the back?”
CVB member Jarrod Fletcher took over for Webb and presented the CVB’s plans for a night market, Santa house and tree and street-lighting ceremony which the council approved. The event will take place at downtown from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30.