Outrage over County Manager's 'poison pen letter'
Despite tension, Kingman Board of Supervisors approves library annex lease extension
KINGMAN - Board of Supervisors candidate Hildy Angius and several other members of the public let the Board of Supervisors and County Manager Ron Walker know Tuesday just what they thought of a letter Walker wrote about the leasing of office space for the County Library District.
"I asked a simple legitimate question, 'Why was the county entering into a lease agreement when we have other office space available,'" Angius said. "I heard nothing about this for two months and then I was handed a five-page poison pen letter. When are you going to learn that you can't trash the public?"
In November, Angius raised several questions about the county extending a lease agreement for office space for the Mohave County Annex on Gordon Drive in Kingman. At that time, she questioned the size of the space and the feasibility of leasing space when there seemed to be more than enough space in current county buildings to hold the offices.
Angius also pointed out that the property being leased was owned by the relatives of two county employees.
Shortly after the meeting, Walker wrote a letter to Board Chairman Buster Johnson and County Attorney Matt Smith describing the November meeting as turning into a Jerry Springer Show-like affair and describing Angius as ignorant of county procurement policies and procedures.
He also appeared to take Supervisor Gary Watson to task for not asking staff about possibly lowering the rent on the space even more before bringing up the issue during the November meeting.
Walker also accused Watson of pulling the issue from November's consent agenda as a favor to a political candidate and that person's campaign manager.
Angius called Walker's letter libelous, but said she wasn't interested in suing.
She said Walker was correct in saying she was ignorant of county procurement procedures, but when she tried to find out answers, a meeting she set up with a procurement officer was canceled by Deputy County Manager John Timko.
"All I want is answers," she said. "You can't tell me that this was the ONLY building in all of Kingman that met those requirements."
"I mean doesn't it make you a little uncomfortable (leasing a building from a company that is partially owned by relatives of county employees)," Angius asked.
Johnson said the Board would not get into personality issues. He explained that when looking to lease property, the county couldn't discriminate against someone because they have different political beliefs or happen to be related to someone who works for the county.
Another candidate for county supervisor, Joy Brotherton, also spoke out at the meeting.
Her major concern was whether the county needed to lease the property.
"Is this necessary? The Board is supposed to be the watchdog for the public's money. I don't feel this is necessary," she said. "(I) Believe there are other facilities out there."
"It's also embarrassing that we're making headlines like these," she said, referring to a story in the Miner on Tuesday. "I feel we should be able to learn from each other without attacking each other. I would like to see this breach mended."
Butch Meriwether suggested the county look at refurbishing the old county jail to house the annex.
Johnson said that even if the county had office space in any of its buildings, the library district would be charged, just like any other entity, for using that space. He also pointed out that this was an extension of an existing lease. The county would have to pay to pack up everything in order to move into another building and may have to pay to refurbish a building.
Supervisor Tom Sockwell asked staff if the jail could be used as a library annex.
Walker said the building was absolutely not suitable for the library's needs
"The fact is there is an appearance of impropriety. The county should be far more open with its info," Denise Bensusan, who is also running for supervisor, said. She asked the county to seriously consider finding room for the library in a county-owned building.
Robert Brooks, who is a partner of ORB Investments, which owns the building the county is leasing for the annex, also spoke out at the meeting. He corrected several misstatements made by audience members about the size of the building and the cost of the lease, which has dropped below the price the county originally rented it for five years ago. He also pointed out that he was charging the county the same amount for rent as business leasing next door to the annex.
Brooks said it wasn't fair that the company was getting singled out just because some of its members happened to be related to county employees.
"I'm not asking for an advantage. I'm just asking you to treat this as a commercial transaction," he said.
In response to the comments, Walker read his letter verbatim into the public record. The letter was intended to explain the procurement process and how he felt it was unethical to mess with a lease contract that had followed those procedures, he said.
He also pointed out that there was a letter from the County Procurement Department and an opinion from the County Attorney's Office in the Board's packets, saying that county and state procurement procedures had been followed and there was nothing wrong with the contract.
He said what he heard at the November Board meeting was not just a simple question about a lease agreement; it was a series of allegations against county staff and the Board.
Walker said, the item was one of many issues pulled from the consent agenda for discussion ,and he was pleased that the discussion today was much more civil than the discussion of the item in November.
"Ignorance isn't evil," he said. It's just someone without all of the facts behind the situation."
He also said that he does believe that Watson understands the county's procurement policies, but wanted to know why Watson didn't come to him before the meeting if he had questions about the lease or the price of the lease.
In November, Watson asked staff to see if the owner of the building would reduce the amount of the lease even more.
County staff carefully considered whether the building met the county's needs and if it was in the county's best interest to continue leasing it, and it is, Walker said. He also pointed out that Procurement's letter showed that a market study of available office space was completed before the original lease was signed and this building met the county's needs.
Deputy County Civil Attorney Bill Ekstrom then read County Civil Attorney Bob Taylor's opinion on the lease issue into the public records. In Taylor's opinion, the county followed all state and local procurement laws, no county employees who were related to ORB Investment were involved in the negotiation.
Watson called Angius back to the microphone and asked her if they had spoken about the lease or any political actions before November's meeting.
Angius said she had never talked to him about the lease, or asked him to pull the item from the consent agenda. The two had never exchanged more than one or two words with each other, she said.
Watson agreed that he didn't know everything about the procurement process and pointed out that the other members of the Board didn't either. However, he found the statement insulting.
Johnson said he did not correct Watson at the November meeting because he did not want to embarrass him. He was quite confident that staff followed procurement law.
Watson then made a motion to approve the extension of the lease, which was unanimously approved by the Board.
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