Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Great Barwick Land Swap

Small town politics have a way of getting murky very quickly.

In a move of questionable legality, (i.e. highly illegal) Barwick City Council has engineered a “land swap” with the Chamber of Commerce. Operating without advice from the city’s legal counsel, two officials from Barwick City Council have approved, signed, and filed a transfer of deed for City property, which houses a building known as the Community House to the Chamber of Commerce in exchange for the property known as the “Community Pool.” Unfortunately, the pool and bath house were bulldozed and filled in this past Summer.

So in an apparent “even exchange of property” the City surrendered a building and several acres of land to a private, civic organization in exchange for a much smaller, vacant lot, and a small check. All of this was done by executive mandate, without due process according to city charter and Georgia Code. The people of the town should have had a say and it should have gone before the Council. It did not.

Now, the Chamber has had a lease on the property for a number of years (of murky legality) and has been responsible for maintaining the Community House at its own expense. They have kept up the building and grounds as a labor of love and out of a sense of civic pride. I do not begrudge them ownership of the building. In fact, I am of the opinion that the Chamber should be the owners of record and should have purchased the building and land in question long before this. But they should have done it within the dictates of the law. They did not.

I am a member of the Chamber of Commerce. I am also a citizen of the town. I begrudge the Chamber the manner in which the property was acquired and the attitude with which certain parties have defended ramrodding this inequitable deal through.

Underhanded, back room dealings are shady, no matter how you cut them. This sale was pushed through without the appropriate measures as dictated by law and without the knowledge of the city’s legal counsel. But the Chamber member responsible, pleased with his back room deal (who wouldn’t be)  and arrogant over its success, commented after the meeting revealing the deal to the population that the deed is filed and if anyone has a problem with it, let them go to the expense of filing suit over it.

It all comes down to money, doesn’t it? People with a measure of power and influence engaging in questionable legal dealings, then defying the outraged citizens to “put their money where their mouth is.”

Right is right. Wrong is wrong. Either something is illegal or it is not. Regardless of the fact that this land deal has been completed and is incapable of being undone now that deeds have been filed, it remains that the two seated members of the City Council who signed the deeds and completed the deal violated a public trust, not to mention the law. When asked, the excuse given at the City Council meeting addressing the issue one official stated that he didn’t read what he was signing. The other refrained from comment. Sounds like grounds for a vote of no confidence for both of them – what do you think? Who wants someone representing the public interest who can’t be bothered to read what they sign? Or who cannot or will not justify his actions?

As for the Chamber of Commerce, most of the members are fine upstanding citizens of the community. Good and honorable men and women who have served on the Council, hold positions of authority and accountability in the community and their church. I’m afraid this deal has revealed a dark and seedy side of the community, blackening the Chamber’s collective eye and adversely affecting its standing in the community and bringing the integrity of its members into question.

As a member, it brings my integrity into question. I don’t know about my fellow Chamber members, but I am outraged by this, as it reflects poorly on all of us. If they are not equally outraged by the manner in which this deal was done, they should be. I have never seen a more stereotypical act of small-town Southern politics – the good ole boy network in action. Those involved should be ashamed of themselves and the citizens of Barwick should hold them accountable.

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