News and Tribune

October 12, 2012

Clark County sells property without public vote

Commissioner Meyer’s daughter buys house, two other properties for $4,500

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — A property that received no bids at a Clark County Commissioners’ tax sale earlier this year was sold for $500 — without a public meeting or a vote on the sale — to a commissioner’s daughter July 4.

Additionally, two more properties that sold in the same commissioners’ sale after receiving bids from a company that does not exist were deeded to the commissioner’s daughter. All three commissioners voted to approve the sale.

All three properties were deeded to the daughter of Commissioner Ed Meyer via the company BMW LLC.



BACKGROUND

After a tax sale in 2010 failed to sell or collect delinquent taxes on 182 of 408 parcels, County Attorney Greg Fifer approached the commissioners to recommend that SRI Inc. handle the sale of 130 of the parcels, while the commissioners handle the sale of the balance through Fifer’s law firm, Applegate Fifer Pulliam LLC. The commissioners approved Fifer’s recommendation at their Oct. 28, 2010, meeting. At the time, the board of commissioners was comprised of Meyer, Les Young and now Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore.

At their next meeting in November 2010, Fifer presented a resolution affirming the commissioners’ intent to conduct a commissioners’ sale of tax-sale certificates for properties that are “severely delinquent” in the payment of property taxes. The commissioners adopted the resolution unanimously.

In late-2011, Fifer obtained the commissioners’ authorization to have two independent appraisals conducted on nine remaining properties and advertise to the public that the properties were for sale. No advertisements were issued at that time.

The first advertisement for the sale of the properties was published in the News and Tribune on Feb. 18. At a March 1 meeting, the commissioners held a public hearing in which it was announced that bids for six properties with a total appraisal of $154,000 were made. The other three properties had been redeemed by the original owner by paying back taxes.

On March 15, bids for four of the six properties were unsealed at the next commissioners’ meeting, including two bids placed by BMW LLC, with an address of 1022 Caiman Court in Sellersburg. One of the properties, located at 4803 Ind. 62 in Jeffersonville, had an average appraised value of $53,500. The other, located at 1117 Sportsman Drive in Jeffersonville, was appraised at $18,000. Both bids were for $2,000.

Because all four bids were for less than 90 percent of the average appraised value of the properties, the commissioners had a meeting March 29 to invite the bidders to increase their bids. There were no new bids.

On May 10, the commissioners held another public meeting, and hearing nothing new, voted unanimously to approve the sale of the four properties for the value of the original bids.

On July 4, deeds for the two properties bid upon by BMW LLC — which does not legally exist, according to the Indiana Secretary of State’s website — were signed over by Young to Brittney Michelle Wardlaw, who is Meyer’s daughter. Additionally, a third property which was listed in the original advertisement but was not bid upon, located at 916 Walnut St. in Jeffersonville with an average appraised value of $28,000, was sold to Wardlaw for the sum of $500. Fifer notarized all three deeds.

The other properties sold during the commissioners’ sale included 211 Level St. in Charlestown and 920 Pratt St. in Jeffersonville. The Charlestown property, appraised at $15,000, sold to William Burden for $500. The Pratt Street property, appraised at $13,000 was sold to Budget Printing Center for $6,100. The sixth property listed on the initial advertisement is still deeded to the commissioners, per the county’s GIS website.



MEYER’S REACTION

Meyer said he “didn’t pay much attention to it” when the bids for the properties were unsealed, even though the address listed on the bids submitted by BMW LLC gave the residential address of his daughter.

“I didn’t look at [the bids],” Meyer said. “All that was handled by Applegate and them, Fifer.”

Meyer was present at the meeting in which the bids were received and made the motion to accept them, according to the minutes of the March 15 meeting. When asked what he knew about his daughter’s purchase of the two properties the commissioners approved, Meyer said, “Nothing more than she bid on them, I guess, and got them.”

Meyer referred questions about how the property at 916 Walnut St. in Jeffersonville was sold to his daughter to Fifer.

“You’d have to ask Greg Fifer that,” Meyer responded when asked why he hadn’t filed disclosure of the sale — as a legal contract — as required by an Indiana law which took effect July 1.



FIFER’S EXPLANATION

Fifer said he did not see a problem with the properties bid on in the commissioners’ sale being deeded to Wardlaw, despite that they were bid on by a company that does not exist.

“They could have formed an LLC and made that a non-issue, but I couldn’t do a deed to a nonexistent entity,” Fifer said. “That would have created additional problems. So in essence, I’m not sure we did formal documentation of that, but in essence — the principal of the nonexistent BMW LLC assigned that to herself, individually. I don’t think that’s problematic.”

A representative for the Indiana State Board of Accounts declined to address whether or not such a transaction was valid because it is a legal question.

As for the property at 916 Walnut St. being conveyed without a vote at a public meeting, Fifer said he discussed selling the property with the commissioners, and provided an email in which he reached out to Jeffersonville Board of Public Works attorney Les Merkley and offered to sell it to the city, which Fifer said had a sizable sewer lien on the property. Fifer said Merkley never responded to the email.

“I reported that to the commissioners. I’m almost certain I did not do this at a public meeting,” Fifer said. “But I reported that to them, and said that I didn’t think it was worth anything and we had received no offers, and the city hadn’t responded. I guess Ed must have then gone and looked at it or had his daughter go look at it and said, ‘We might have some interest in it.’ I said, ‘Then send me your best offer for it,’ which was $500, which was better than zero, and it kept the county from having to take on ownership of what I think would have been a burden of expense that we didn’t need. So they sent the offer in, and I’m sure I probably didn’t take it back.

“Probably in hindsight, maybe I should have done that, take it to a public meeting and vote on that.”

Fifer maintains that the sale of the property was the right thing to do for Clark County.

“We certainly attempted to put it through the disposal process, and everybody would have been tickled if it would have gone for more,” Fifer said. “I still think — I don’t care, take Ed’s daughter out of it — anybody that would have been willing to take that property for $500 and have the county not be responsible for it, in my opinion, with the financial state that the county’s in, the county’s better off than if the city had taken it for nothing.”

Fifer went on to acknowledge that there may have been a mistake made in the advertising of the properties up for bid. The public hearing for the acceptance of the bids was advertised once. Per Indiana Code 5-3-1-2, public hearings where bids are accepted and approved must be advertised twice, at least seven days apart and at least seven days before the hearings.

“I’m not perfect. Maybe I made a mistake. I don’t know,” Fifer said.



YOUNG’S SIGNATURES

When asked about his role in the sale of the property, Young said he did not have a recollection of any discussion of selling 916 Walnut St. to Wardlaw. Young could not recall what he was doing July 4, when the deeds were transferred to Wardlaw, but said he was preparing to take a trip to California to visit his daughter. Young suggested that a stamp in the commissioners’ office was used to sign off on the deeds, but the signatures on the three deeds are different. Young said he believed he had acted properly.

“I don’t ever recall doing it. I don’t who them other people — I didn’t know that was his daughter,” Young said. “I know that we went through all the proper channels on all of them. At least I thought we did. Because we went through all the — nobody claimed them or anything, and that’s why they ended up in the process they were in. To my knowledge, I thought we was going through all of the legal hoops and everything if I signed anything.”

Young suggested he might have been the victim of the “Radar treatment,” referring to the sitcom M*A*S*H. On the show, Radar was a character known for sneaking problem documents into large piles of paper needing the commander’s signature.

“If I didn’t sign it, or if someone pulled the ‘Radar treatment’ on me, that’s not going to sit well with me,” Young said.

Fifer conceded that Young might not have known what he was signing when the documents were presented for signature.

“Did I sit Les down and say, ‘This is what this deed is, and this is what this deed is?’” Fifer said. “No, I told him, ‘These are the deeds for which the county has received offers, and these are the highest offers that we’ve got, and you approved these four and then this one came in, and it’s not worth having new appraisals done and readvertising, because you’re going to lose money by doing that, plus paying us for our time.’ He would have signed the deeds, but his answer that he may not have recognized the significance of the deeds he was signing is certainly plausible.”

Perkins said he has “no specific knowledge” of the sale of the Walnut Street property to Wardlaw.

Wardlaw’s phone number is not listed. Wardlaw did not respond to a request for comment sent to her via the social-media website Facebook.



MEYER ISSUES STATEMENT

At a commissioners’ meeting Thursday, when asked for Wardlaw’s contact information, Meyer instead issued a written statement.

“You have my statement,” Meyer said, when pressed for Wardlaw’s phone number. “Don’t mess with my family.”

In his statement, Meyer wrote that he believed nothing illegal had taken place in the bid process, and if there had been a problem with the process, that Fifer would have told the commissioners.

“Greg Fifer made no such report,” Meyer wrote.

In the statement, Meyer acknowledged that Wardlaw is his daughter and defended her right to participate in the bidding process.

“Brittney did nothing wrong here,” Meyer wrote. “She has rights as an adult citizen, just like all of us have. If she and her husband wanted to bid on some surplus property, like any citizen could, that was their decision to make. If a legitimate advertisement or procedure mishap occurred then the sale to this citizen, like any citizen, should be set aside and the process should be made right. I took no part in this surplus sale and would look to the auditor and attorney to fix the process, not to politicize it.”

Meyer went on to write he suspected that the story was tipped to the News and Tribune to affect his campaign for re-election.

“It seems to be no accident that some people chose a time within a month from election day to claim a ‘discovery’ to try to help my opponent at the expense of my family,” Meyer wrote. “My daughter is a kindergarten teacher and a mother, and she should not be hurt in my political race.”