Gardner City Council members gave a healthy nod to cronyism during a Sept. 15 meeting.
Council members agreed to negotiate for a city-owned piece of property on Gardner Lake with one potential buyer rather than offering the property to anyone with an interest in bidding.
In 2013, a Gardner pair asked the city to sell the piece of property, located adjacent to their home. According to city policy, the city can only sell property if officials determine the property is not needed for future use. Officials must then list the property as “surplus.” City staff recommended that officials retain the property for development as a future lake access point, but council members overrode that recommendation deeming the property surplus.
During a Sept. 15 meeting, city council members told city staff to enter into private negotiations for the sale of the small property. Other interested parties will not have an opportunity to purchase it.
City staff offered council three options for the eventual sale of the property: The city could host a public auction; solicit sealed bids or enter into private negotiations with one buyer.
They chose a private negotiation with only one potential buyer.
The council’s decision damages the public trust in two ways. First, the citizens of Gardner own Gardner Lake. However, the places for citizens to access the lake are few and far between. Though the property isn’t ideal for lake access, city staff believed it had future potential.
Secondly, by limiting others’ options to purchase the property, potential buyers and investors were eliminated. That could limit the purchase price, leaving public money on the table to the benefit of only a few and the detriment of the citizenry.
We don’t oppose the city selling excess property, but we aren’t certain due consideration was given to the future potential of the property.
Meanwhile, the council’s reasoning for only entering negotiations with one buyer is shoddy at best.
Council member Steve Shute said no one else would want or be able to use that property.
That logic suggests that Shute believes he knows what every private investor would want. That smacks of government always knowing more than the people it serves.
We would have preferred that other potential buyers be given the opportunity to bid on that property. Yes, it’s small and yes, the end result would likely be the same.
We agreed that a public auction seemed more trouble than it was worth, but sealed bids cost nothing and give everyone a chance.
While we have trouble imagining anyone else would have a use for the property, the truth is, we just don’t know, and we are loathe to assume.
The city’s surplus property policy should be amended. All citizens should have the option to purchase surplus land.