Mayor sells property without OK
Published 12:05 am Saturday, August 18, 2012
A majority of the then-sitting River Falls town council members said this week they never voted in 2008 to sell the town’s former city hall property Mayor Mary Hixon sold to a man who has been living in her house for more than a decade.
Probate records show the property, which begins at the intersection of Sunnyside and Pierce streets in River Falls, was sold to “Connecuh River Enterprises,” a corporation also known as Conecuh River Enterprises and owned by Richard B. Moss. Conecuh River Enterprises is listed as a wholesale feed and seed business.
An online business database also lists CRE’s business address as Moss’ workplace, the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office in New Brockton, where he works as the county jail administrator.
The deed, which was executed by Hixon, stated the property was sold “in consideration of $10 and other valu(able) considerations,” on March 4, 2008. Local attorneys say that is a common description for property transactions no matter what the cost.
When Moss was contacted about the sale and asked about the purchase price, he said, “I’m not able to say,” and asked the reporter to put her request in writing. When asked where to send the request, Moss gave the store’s physical address of 24903 Sunnyside St.
Moss then asked why the reporter wanted to know about the sale. He later said the sale was “not any of (the reporter’s) business, and you can write that down and put it into your newspaper.”
Hixon was also contacted by The Star-News for comment. When the reporter identified herself, Hixon pleasantly said, “I have a sore throat and can’t talk to anyone” and hung up.
Under Alabama law, before a municipality can sell property, it must be declared as surplus, meaning no longer needed for municipal purposes. Secondly, an ordinance – signed by the council and entered into the meeting minutes – is required to dispose of real property not needed for municipal or public use, which gives the mayor the authority to handle the transaction.
Also included in the ordinance are instructions on how the mayor is to handle such transactions, i.e., selling it to an individual after the ordinance becomes permanent or selling the property to the highest bidder. A municipality is not required by law to advertise for bids on the property before it can be sold. Additionally, a municipality cannot sell any of its property for less than adequate consideration; however, an exception can be made if the property is sold to a private entity if the municipality determines a public purpose is served with the sale.
Three town council members serving in 2008 told The Star-News no such ordinance was approved because they never voted to dispose of the property – in fact, one council member thought the town still owned the property located at 24903 Sunnyside St.
For more than 10 years, Olene Bean has served on the River Falls town council. She is unopposed in the upcoming Aug. 28 municipal election and is set to serve another four-year term.
When told of the sale, Bean said, “Are you kidding me? As far as I know, (the property) still belongs to River Falls.”
After being told of the recorded deed, Bean said, “That’s news to me. No vote was taken that I know of. If (other council members) did, I wasn’t at that meeting. I don’t know anything about it. I’m totally for River Falls and its citizens.
“I don’t want to believe (Hixon) would do a thing like that,” she said. “But, when people are in authority, they will do what they deem to be appropriate. But I don’t think she had that much authority to sell the property without the council’s authority.”
In 2008, Lamar Thomasson occupied the council seat now held by Leo Smith. Thomasson served for two years before resigning because of the lack of council meetings and that he “didn’t feel right about getting paid when we weren’t meeting.”
Thomasson said he remembers a conversation with Hixon about disposing of the property, but was adamant a vote was never taken.
“I remember she asked me if I had any objections to selling the property to (Moss),” Thomasson said. “I said, ‘No,’ but I promise, no vote was taken. No dollar amount was discussed, and no documentation was presented. It was never brought up at a meeting that I recall.”
When informed, the deed stated the property was sold for $10 and other valuable consideration, he said, “What?!”
Like Bean, current council member Mattie Freeney faces no opposition in the upcoming election. Freeney, who was appointed to the council in the late 1990s, said she remembers Hixon talking about it, but also agreed no vote was taken to dispose of the property.
“I don’t remember how it was done,” she said of the transaction. “There are no minutes written, but I don’t remember a vote. And $10, I would remember that.”
Freeney said she knew that Moss, “the guy who lives with (Hixon),” acquired the property, but she doesn’t know how he acquired it.
“All I remember is (Hixon) calling us to come down for a picture for the newspaper when (the seed store) opened,” she said. “I would have remembered a vote. I feel so ignorant.”
A fourth councilman, 90-year-old Loy Ray Morgan said his mind “was tricky” but he didn’t remember a thing about it.
Morgan resigned earlier this week from his seat, citing health issues.
An attempt to contact Councilman Hamner “Ham” Curry failed when a female answered the phone and hung up when the reporter identified herself.
Earlier this week, The Star-News filed a written request with River Falls town clerk MaryAnn Andrews to view the town’s minute book and ordinance book as they were not made available for public viewing.
As the requests must be approved by Andrews as the record’s custodian, town policy states copies are provided “in an expedient manner” and that requests would be handled on a time available basis.