A heated discussion concerning the legalities of the October 2018 sale of the former Williamson High School complex ended with one councilman calling for an investigation of the city’s mayor.
Councilman Randal Price claims that Mayor Charlie Hatfield inappropriately took possession of property which should rightly belong to the city. Price read verbatim from several documents concerning the recent public auction of the old Williamson High School. Those documents included the original lease agreement conveying the property to the Mingo County School Board, minutes of the Mingo County Commission and related newspaper articles.
According to Price, who read from the July 1916 lease agreement, the document contained a clause stating that any buildings and improvements “shall revert to and become property of the lessor (the City of Williamson) to be used for the public benefit and general welfare of the inhabitants of the city of Williamson.”
In addition to the reversion clause, Price said the lease only was in effect for a period of 99 years. The Williamson High School was closed in 2011 and sold to the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority in September 2013 as a pass through agent for the Mingo County Commission. The lease expired in 2015. The commission took over the ownership of the complex in August 2018 and auctioned shortly thereafter.
Cheryl Lycan won what turned out to be bidding war for the complex with a final bid of $800,500. During a commission meeting two weeks after the auction to finalize the sale, she was asked what name to put on the deed. The name she gave was HKL, LLC (Hatfield, Sam Kapourales and Joe and Cheryl Lycan).
“At that point, I feel the mayor, through HKL, LLC, took possession of the Williamson High School property,” Price stated. “Before our mayor purchased the property, did they do the due diligence to get a clear title to the property before closing?
He quoted from minutes of the Redevelopment Authority stating there were problems with the original source deed.
“They knew there were problems with the title,” Price continued. “I just can’t find if it’s this lease agreement or not. That’s why we need an investigation.”
Mike Hamilton, an attorney representing the Lycans, also addressed the council. He said if there was a dispute over the ownership of the old high school complex and it was going to be discussed in public, his clients should be given adequate notice of such a meeting so they could attend.
Hamilton went on to warn if the city attempted to retake ownership of any part of the complex “there will be a lawsuit.”
Price attempted to make a motion for an official investigation into any wrongdoing on the part of the mayor. However, Hatfield told him according to Robert’s Rules of Order (the most widely used set of parliamentary procedures used across the United States) the item was only put on the agenda for the purpose of discussion only. The agenda request was made in the form of a written letter by Price and Councilwoman Sherry Hairston Brown.
Hatfield told Price the city could initiate an investigation into him without a motion simply by contacting the ethics commission.
A subsequent motion by Price to have a comprehensive plan developed and put on file before any planning and zoning ordinances could be approved by the council was also met with resistance by Hatfield. He once again said the purpose on the agenda was specifically for discussion only.
“See there denied again,” Price said.
Hatfield then turned his attention to members of the public who were attending the meeting.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am not trying to deny Mr. Price his voice,” the mayor said. “They wrote it. I didn’t. They submitted a request to have a discussion.”
Hatfield told Price if he wanted to put having a motion on the agenda for the next meeting that it was within his right. He added to his comment that the discussion of the two separate issues was a personal attack.
“Mr. Price and some people don’t like what’s going on. They don’t like me and they don’t like what I do. All that aside, we have to do it the right way.”
In other actions, the city council performed its usual list of housekeeping items such as approving the minutes and the financial report along with hearing reports from department heads.