Board votes in 10-minute public session

by Frank DeLoache

DAVIDSON – After announcing the end of their regular meeting June 14, and following a 45-minute closed session, Davidson commissioners reconvened for a 10-minute open session during which they voted unanimously to spend $280,000 to buy and finish two homes for the town’s Affordable Housing Program.

The neighboring unfinished homes at 19818 and 19822 Davidson-Concord Road, in the Bradford neighborhood, were built to comply with the town’s affordable-housing rules, but they were caught in a foreclosure action against developer Frank Jacobus. Cindy Reid, who coordinates the Affordable Housing Program for the town, said the Davidson Housing Coalition already has two qualified buyers ready to purchase the homes from the town, and town officials felt the need to provide affordable homes for larger families. One house has three bedrooms and the other has four.

The town will pay for the homes from the town’s fund balance. The town has offered to purchase each house for $120,000 and authorized an additional investment of about $15,800 per house to complete them, Public Information Officer Megan Pillow Davis said. “We expect to sell them each for more than the purchase price,” she said.

No one but town employees were present for the 10-minute open session on June 14, and the board’s action prompted a letter of protest from Vince Winegardner, a member of the town’s planning board and a retired veteran who helps his wife manage her medical practice. Read an abbreviated version of Winegardner’s letter on page 23.

“Why not discuss this large expenditure of taxpayer money in a public forum?” Winegardner wrote in a letter to Mayor John Woods and commissioners. “Is there a back room agreement with this development or bank? Was a closed session really necessary or was it a cover for adding a large expenditure after passing a controversial budget?”

Contacted by the Herald Weekly, Woods took “responsibility for the confusion.”

“We had identified the subject matter of the closed session on the agenda but did not anticipate the necessity of taking action, thus identifying a return to open session,” Wood wrote in an email. “After lengthy discussion, the board felt the issue was of such importance that we should proceed with action so we returned to open session and the doors were opened.

“In addition, to further confuse the matter, we had a legal issue to discuss and, to save the staff members time, we returned to open session to deal with the affordable housing matter, allowing those staff members to depart, then moved back to closed session to discuss the legal matter. All in all, I will be more mindful of this confusion and attempt to predict occasions – however rarely they may occur – when we might return to open session and take action. In my tenure serving the town, such occasions are very rare.”

Winegardner questioned the need for the Affordable Housing Program, given the way home values have plummeted since the 2008 recession.

“Davidson cannot afford another white elephant,” he wrote to the board. “I had hoped our town would have learned from the MI-Connection situation that due diligence and risk/reward assessment are important parts of the decision process. … The Davidson taxpayer should not be asked to subsidize the (Affordable Housing Program) in any way.”

Reid, the program manager, said these are first two homes the town has tried to purchase for affordable housing. The town manages 54 homes – single family and townhomes – in the program in communities scattered across the town, but developers built and sold those units under the town’s guidelines.

Woods said the town board approved the master plan for Bradford in 2001. In that plan 12.5 percent of homes, including the two in question, “were set aside and defined as ‘affordable’” under the Affordable Housing Ordinance.

“The houses/properties are in foreclosure, approximately 85 percent complete, are major eyesores in the Bradford neighborhood and generally are not marketable until the construction is completed. The town is exercising the purchase process for both properties for far-below market value with the intention of completing the construction, and selling/leasing the homes, maintaining them in the ‘affordable pool’ of properties.”

The mayor emphasized, “The town is not getting into the real estate business, and this effort is to save two valuable affordable properties … There is no intention to expand our purchase of other affordable homes. Although we cannot/will not step in and ‘save’ other neighborhoods from such challenges, we did feel these two houses are special cases and can be marketable for sale or lease-purchase to deserving buyers.”

Davidson Realtor Linda Angele, a resident of the town for 17 years, shares Winegardner’s questions about the town’s purchase of the Bradford homes and spending priorities in general.

“The town is broke,” she said this week. “We can’t get our money back from MI-Connection, and we’re broke. Then they spend $280,000 to buy two homes …  So they are now competing with owners of homes who are trying to sell their property. There are 20 homes on the market in that price range. That’s not right.”

Winegardner and Angele are part of a small but growing Davidson group that has met twice and plans to continue raising questions about the town’s spending practices and the way commissioners conduct business.

The recent 10-minute public session to buy the two houses is the most recent example, Angele said. “They may be going by the letter of the law, but they are certainly not operating by the spirit of the law,” she said.

Neither Winegardner nor Angele said they are planning to run for town board this fall.

Anyone interested in joining the group can contact Winegardner at vwinegardner@bellsouth.net or Angele at langele@bellsouth.net.