Town Magistrate or pawn?
By Peter Koteas | January 14, 2009
Does the end justify the means? You decide.
The Agenda for the Dec. 2, 2008 Town Council Meeting included Item #7, “Discussion of options for relocation of the Town of Carefree Municipal Court”.
At the request of the Mayor, Town Magistrate K.C. Scull, addressed the Town Council and advised them that the court has been working on a month to month rental arrangement for the past three years. He stated that the court, if asked to vacate on short notice, could not move its furniture, computers, the telephone system and various other office equipment. Magistrate Skull said the present facilities, of approximately 1600 sq. ft., "were fine." However; if they received a short notice eviction, their situation was unacceptable. The Judge repeated the word “unacceptable” on several occasions.
No one presented evidence or documentation that any discussion had taken place regarding a long term lease with the landlord other than to say that the landlord wasn’t interested in doing so. It is important to note that Judge Scull was before the Town Council on at least two occasions in the summer of 2008 and did not bring this matter to the Council’s attention either time. Nor was the issue of the Court’s lease on any regular meeting agenda during the time this Council has been seated! Given the “dire circumstances” that seems odd.
Following the Magistrate’s comments, Mayor Fulcher stated the Town had recently been given the opportunity to purchase a 3659 square foot building on a .89 acre double lot just north of the Sundial for $850,000. At the special meeting of 12/11/08 we learned that “recently” was June 2008. Councilman Gardner then explained what a great opportunity this was and although the property was not listed for sale, it is being offered to the Town “below appraised value.” Those in attendance at the December 2nd meeting were then informed the Town had to consummate the purchase by 12/31/08. Because the real estate purchase was not an agenda item a special meeting was required to decide the matter. The citizens of Carefree that were not in attendance on December 2nd were given a 48 hour notice prior to the special meeting to witness the Council vote to spend $850,000 for real estate without any plan for its use by the Town beyond allowing the current tenant to remain at a below market month to month rent.
This purchase does not insulate the Court from its potential “sudden eviction” problem. In fact, it was stated at the special meeting that, ideally, the Municipal Court would remain where they are and the current tenant would remain in the newly purchased building. The obvious question, “If the Municipal Court situation is so dire, why hasn’t there been a budget line item within the past three years under capital expense in place for relocating the Court”?
Does the Municipal Court face eminent disaster? Not likely. Will the purchase of this real estate eliminate the pressure of a 30 day notice to move on the court? No. In fact, according to AZ Statute 22-402C, the Town IS NOT obligated to provide space for the Municipal Court.
The Citizens of Carefree deserve answers to a number of serious questions:
When does sound long range planning include relying on the element of blind luck?
Are those that made this decision so in tune with the future they are positive no better solution will be available to the Town over the course of the next 13 years?
If another great real estate opportunity comes along will we rush to purchase that one also?
Is the $850,000 cost to the Town reasonable in today’s economy?
Was it necessary to use “moving the Court” as the reason to justify the purchase?
Knowing that the Court will likely not move, was Agenda Item #7 clearly stated?
Without passing judgment on the purchase itself, why has relocating the Court not been addressed for the past three years?
Here’s the good news; the Town has the option to pay off the loan at a time of its choosing … without any prepayment penalty. That would be a good thing.
Good, sound, long term solutions to the issues facing the Town are appreciated by all; however, none should be handled in a manner that offers the perception of deceit or made under the cover of darkness.
I cannot speak for you but I would have felt much better about this if Mayor Fulcher simply stated, “the Town has been presented with a unique opportunity that we simply should not pass up … and this is why.”
The manner in which this matter was handled is simply “not the right thing to do”.
Peter Koteas a 14 year resident of Carefree is a former small business owner, business practice consultant and entrepreneur. Peter has consulted for several of the largest corporations in the food industry including Tyson Foods, Nestlé USA and Sara Lee. He is a candidate for Carefree Town Council (www.peterkoteas.com) and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.