Tuesday night, the City of Reidsville held a specially-called council meeting in regard to the purchase of the Cheney & Cheney Law Office to be used as a new City Hall. The purchase has raised concern because of the steep cost, the financing, and the purchase of property by the City from the City Attorney.
City Attorney Van Cheney attempted to clarify points from the last column on All On Georgia, saying it didn’t paint an accurate picture for the people of Reidsville, going as far as to call it a ‘hatchet job.’ As he read the column, line by line, he disputed each point.
He acknowledged that the council did in fact approve the purchase of the property of Cheney & Cheney in May. He assured attendees the building was built with ‘good materials’ with ‘sound bones.’ He confirmed the building 3,800 square feet. His personal opinion remains that it is a good use for city hall space, it’s centrally located, and is handicap accessible. Cheney acknowledged that the deal would have the public safety department move into the current city hall, therefore, increasing expenses for the city.
Van Cheney went on to say that the transaction of the purchase of the property will be overseen by the Georgia Municipal Association – an organization funded by taxpayers. Many at the meeting questioned why, if its a direct transaction between Cheney and the City of Reidsville, GMA needs to be involved at all. Cheney mentioned that GMA will now be the middle man in the transaction, a stipulation that was not noted in the obtained open records request dated September 24, 2015. Worth noting, All On Georgia never alleged the transaction was illegal, but a conflict of interest and a retirement program for Cheney. The concern of All On Georgia was not the cost, but the purchase of the property from the city attorney.
To close his public trial of All On Georgia, Cheney passed around a WTOC article showing Claxton paid $1 million for a new city hall and a resume of the real estate appraiser, Jack Gibson, who conducted the appraisal of Cheney & Cheney Law office.
The meeting was then opened for public comment. Those comments are below the line at the bottom of the article.
The main concerns in the meeting were:
- The idea that the law office is not large enough for the expansion the City of Reidsville needs and will need additional space before long.
- A lack of preparedness by the City Council and mayor to address concerns over bids and total costs of renovations, demolitions, and transitioning to the new office, including complaints that no one knows the actual cost of renovations after the purchase price.
- The traffic is congested and dangerous intersection near the office of Cheney and Cheney
Citizens expressed repeatedly that they would like the council and Mayor Rewis to reconsider, or at a minimum, take more time to evaluate options.
Whether or not the deal is done, some say yes and some say no. Open records from September 24, 2015 indicate the purchase of the property was voted on and approved in May. City Attorney Van Cheney acknowledged that in his presentation at the beginning of the meeting, but upon further questioning, he said it was not a done deal. The issue will likely be voted on again.
All On Georgia partner, Delvis Dutton, was in attendance of the meeting when David Avery, who was there on behalf of The Tattnall Journal, stood to defend the Mayor and council and apologize for the article – which was not written by him. He then suggested that the author of the original article and column no longer write for All On Georgia, and instead The National Enquirer.
The meeting was adjourned and a date for additional review of this issue will be set at a later date.
Questions asked by the public to Mayor Rewis, the City Council, and City Attorney Van Cheney:
Mr. Bennett questioned the council as to whether it was a done deal. Cheney responded that it is still in process and still being financed.
Mrs. Bennett asked if there was any other options. Mayor Rewis responded that Attorney Cheney has been looking for properties on behalf of the city for some time, but decided it would take too much money to renovate an existing building like the Tattnall Bank.
Mr. Nail asked why the old County Yard was not considered for building a complex, leaving room expansion noting the plans proposed don’t seem to be suitable in the Cheney Law Office. He expressed dissatisfaction with tearing down the adjacent building and then paving for parking because it will cost even more. “It doesn’t have to be walkable, it has to be accessible. People don’t walk to city hall.” (The property is worth ~$260,000)
Mrs. Vicki Nail questioned how the deal will not be an expense for taxpayers and emphasized her wishes that the council would consider other options.
Mr. Syndey Clifton
- What dollar amount to renovate the office? Rewis said he thinks it won’t be over $30,000.
- What dollar amount to demolish the bulding next door Rewis – $25-30k
- Are you taking the building to the slab? Rewis – Yes.
- How much will it cost outside the $425,000? Rewis: An additional $60,000.
- Have you considered the building may have asbestos, lead paint, and other things of that nature? Cheney responded he checked it himself.
- Has anyone researched hazardous products in that house? Rewis: I did.
- Is money put aside that if something came up, the City could handle it? Rewis: Yes
Mr. Willie asked why the adjacent lot is being torn down if it isn’t pressing? Rewis: There is already enough parking and a drive thru. He also acknowledged the traffic area is difficult and dangerous at Cheney & Cheney.
Mr. Ashley Durrence, as a citizen of Reidsville, said he doesn’t believe in impropriety, but doesn’t agree with the transaction. When he was on the council, they chose not to build because they didn’t want to spend $500,000 on a city hall. Similarly, Durrence noted that the comps Cheney provided of other city halls, like Claxton, were built to suit and accomodate any expansion necessary ahead of time. This transaction does not do that and the city needs to spend more time looking and considering options.
Durrence noted when he was on Reidsville Council, the goal was to reduce taxes before spending the surplus, which has been done. He asked why the city wouldn’t finance the transaction instead. He said he wasn’t a fan of the city financing things when the money is available to purchase outright.
Mr. Donald Lavant asked the job title of the author of the All On Georgia column. He also expressed traffic concerns at the Cheney & Cheney.
Mr. Donald Prestage asked if the city could get multiple, accurate bids before going through with the deal. He said there are always hidden costs in renovating a building, and doing homework can prevent that. His personal opinion is that the building is too small. He said the council owes the people of the city accurate numbers, not estimates and guesses.
Mrs. Laura Anderson said the intersection with Cheney & Cheney is accident prone and has issues with speeders. She also expressed that there won’t be enough parking. Mrs. Anderson said more than one bid needs to be obtained for each project and the contracts should be awarded accordingly, not just the first and only bid. Asked the council to reconsider the purchase of the property.
She was also upset that the meeting took place at 5pm because many couldn’t attend due to work obligations.
Mr. David is concerned about Reidsville growing. He said he doesn’t understand how taxes cannot go up, but the building can still be purchased and renovated.
Mrs. Megan Waters voiced her concern about the actual location. She said she’s been inside Cheney & Cheney regardless of where it is entered because the area is so small. Mrs. Waters said there will be additional costs with upgrading the office like being able to accept debit cards and new computer systems. She asked for a specific cost breakdown of increases of the police operating as a second building at the City Hall, expressing concern over a lack of an expressed number.
Mr. Rogers said the purchase has advantages and disadvantages. But why was the vote in May but the public hearing is just now? Rewis said the deal was not completed. Cheney said it was just a vote to move forward with the proposal of the purchase.