Questions raised about conflicts of interest, but attorney asserts all is in order.
By Clellie Allen
LOUISBURG — More than four years after being gifted nearly $900,000 to purchase land and construct a new county park, commissioners voted 6-1 Monday to purchase the former Bull Creek Golf and Country Club located at the intersection of Masseburg-Baker Road and Wheeless Road, northeast of Louisburg.
The 167-acre property, which recently headed toward foreclosure, is being purchased as a short sale, according to county attorney Pete Tomlinson. The price the county is offering is $700,000, which Tomlinson indicated will be accepted by the note holder, First Citizens Bank.
Commissioner Harry Foy, the only dissenting vote, acknowledged that the buy was a good one, even while signaling he still didn’t want it.
“Money-wise, it’s a pretty good price … for the private citizen. But it scares me to think about the county getting into the golf course business. It really gives me heartburn,” Foy said.
Commissioner Shane Mitchell, however, responded that he was not looking for the county to be getting into golf, but there was a lot of infrastructure already in place on the property which made it an attractive buy.
In addition to the 167 acres, the property also comes with a 3,200-square-foot clubhouse and two other 4,000-square-foot buildings, as well as four ponds.
After the vote, Tomlinson tried to further allay concerns that the county was going to manage a golf course. He said that the greens were too far gone to be currently used and would be too costly to return to a golfing standard. “Nobody wants to run a golf course. The board has never considered it as a golf course,” he said.
Nonetheless, there were still concerns from some residents present.
During the time for public comments, Pat Walker of Louisburg asked the board if money had already been spent on land appraisals for the park. At least 15 pieces of property have been considered over the last four years.
Tomlinson answered that the previously looked-at Dyking Road property had been appraised with funds from the willed money, which is currently in escrow.
Walker asked if the Bull Creek property had been appraised and both Tomlinson and Commissioner Don Lancaster said they were not at liberty to comment.
After the vote, Tomlinson said an appraisal on the Bull Creek property has not yet happened and unlike previous appraisals, which were performed by outside companies, the appraisal for Bull Creek will be handled by the county’s tax administrator.
Mary Ella Hutchinson expressed concern about commissioners’ potential conflicts of interest.
She noted that earlier this year the Park Commission, which had been tasked with locating suitable property, had been relieved of their duties and a committee including Commissioners Sidney Dunston, Lancaster, John May and County Manager Angela Harris were given the responsibility.
She noted that Lancaster had already told her he had recused himself from the vote on Bull Creek as he had involvement both with First Citizens and Union banks.
However, she was con-cerned that Dunston was a member of the Massenburg family as the late Warren Massenburg was reportedly Dunston’s uncle. Further, Hutchinson said, Dunston lives in an apartment that is currently owned by the Massenburg family.
“There’s a big conflict of interest, gentlemen,” she said. “I think the rumors are strong enough that they need to be addressed.”
Dunston, however, declined to recuse himself, repeatedly saying, “I have no personal interest in it.”
After the vote, Tomlinson backed Dunston’s assertions saying he only needed to recuse himself if he was benefiting directly from the sale.
“He has no ownership interest … The law says you’ve got to have a personal financial interest. Yes, he is kin to some of them … if he was the son who was going to inherit, or if he could have actually gotten a financial part, but people are always voting on something that may help an acquaintance or friend or somebody.”
The land purchase is contingent upon the closing happening in 90 days and based on a clear environmental study and dam study on the ponds and an internal appraisal by the county’s tax administrator.
Additionally, once the purchase is made, all management decisions will be turned back over to the recreation committee, under the leadership of the parks and recreation director.
The original money for the park came from the estate of Edgar H. Owens and any leftover funds are stipulated to be used to stock a fishing pond which would be named the V.E. Owens Fishing Hole. The park itself is to be named the V.E. and Lydia H. Owens Park.