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Article 51
Published: Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 4:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 4:38 p.m.

Contract for school resurfaces at meeting

By Heather J. Smith
The Dispatch

The Davidson County Board of Commissioners talked Thursday morning about its decision last month to buy the former location of Davidson Country Day School for $1.825 million before all commissioners had read the contract.

I came in and picked up my agenda packet and when I saw Davidson Country Day School on there, I thought it was another discussion,” said Vice Chairman Sam Watford. “I didn’t know we were going to buy it then.”

He admitted there was time for him to check back with the county manager’s office and discover the contract, but he would have if he knew of the county’s haste to enter into a contract.

I don’t understand why there was such a rush. We had until (Aug.) 28th to close. Why couldn’t we have discussed it then and made the decision today?” Watford said. “I didn’t realize all the backs had already been slapped and the cigars had been smoked.”

Since last month’s meeting, Watford said he found other commissioners had not seen it either. He also discovered that he and others were under the misconception the property was owned by the bank that issued the mortgage, Bank of North Carolina, because the county was dealing directly with bank officials. It was instead fully owned by Davidson Academy LLC.

Watford said both he and Commissioner Larry Potts make income off buying and selling real estate. They both believe the best way to land a low price on property is to negotiate with the owners, which takes time.

We could have dealt directly with Davidson Academy,” he said. “They were the true owners of the property. We could have negotiated for a better price.”

Potts echoed Watford, saying discussions in both closed and open session never ventured to who owned the property. A quick close on a property was in the best interest of the bank, Potts said, avoiding a foreclosure on their books and potential effect on stock value. The county had, as he put it, “bailed out” Bank of North Carolina and Davidson Academy by agreeing to buy the property.

“The bank didn’t lose on this, the bank came out smelling like a rose,” Potts said.

Chairman Fred McClure disagreed.

“We had all the information before us the whole time,” he said. “There was no bailout, there are no individual owners that are getting kickbacks from this.”

He said most commissioners thought the purchase was an excellent opportunity, and the county had the money set aside to cover the purchase price. When Bank of North Carolina approached the county with the $1.825 million price, it was eager to secure a bargain before another investor offering more struck a deal first.

“There were other buyers for the property, some that were willing to pay off the whole note. We had to move fast,” McClure said.

Commissioners Dr. Max Walser and Cathy Dunn voiced their support for the purchase, but Billy Joe Kepley summarized why details about ownership and which commissioners read the contract before it was voted on was not the issue for him. The county’s definite need for more space was all the justification he needed.

“We could spend $1.8 million now and save $5 million over five years,” Kepley said.

There have been some negative words about the purchase, Kepley said, but not addressed to him directly.

“I haven’t had the first person contact me against this,” he said. “Many, many people have praised this.”

Dunn said she had also heard positive public reaction to the contract and is mystified about the concern over details.

The bank had a note, we had to negotiate with the bank,” she said. “And we did negotiate the price down several hundred thousand dollars.”

Commissioner Don Truell, silent until the end of the discussion, offered a concluding thought.

“It’s done, and we’ve voted for it, so I guess that’s the end of it,” he said. “But after everything that was said today, I still can’t understand why the bank would sell property for a loss when there were buyers willing to pay off the entire debt.”

In other matters, the board also discussed a request made by the Town of Denton to extend its extraterritorial jurisdiction to a full mile beyond the city limit lines. Commissioners will explore holding a special public information session about the ETJ expansion at a later date.

Heather J. Smith can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 228 or at heatherj.smith@the-dispatch.com.

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