HAMLET — Hamlet City Councilman Jesse McQueen questioned on Tuesday the city’s purchase of the A&P building that officials plan to turn into the new police department headquarters.
The building was purchased by the city for $50,000 late last summer. McQueen said he was concerned about the manner in which the city acquired the property. On Aug. 13, McQueen sat in the council’s monthly public meeting as a resident of Hamlet to hear what the council was discussing and the issues that were going on in Hamlet.
After former Mayor Jeff Smart adjourned the meeting and Smart, city attorney Steve Futrell and City Clerk Tammy Kirkley had left the council’s meeting room, the council continued to discuss city business, McQueen said. That business dealt partially with the purchase of the A&P building across from City Hall.
McQueen referred to his previous time on city council. During a March 2008 briefing, city officials were briefed on the general statutes that govern council meetings.
Last Aug. 13, McQueen said he saw the council sitting and talking about city business and essentially having a meeting. For over 30 minutes the council stayed over and discussed the purchase of the building.
“That is not how I want to see the city do business,” McQueen said.
After the discussion on Aug. 13, McQueen said one councilman said to City Manager Marchell David that his vote was yes on the purchase of the A&P building.
McQueen said David sent an email on Aug. 14 to council members discussing a tentative agreement to purchase the A&P building for $50,000. McQueen said David emphasized in that email that the offer was good only until Aug. 16. At the time, McQueen said he asked for the responses of the council members but was told that that information couldn’t be provided — that there was a virus that hit the computer system and some of the information was lost.
McQueen expressed that he was “shocked and upset” that the meeting and the vote itself had not been been done in a public meeting to notify the residents of Hamlet of what was going on.
Councilman Pat Preslar, who previously told The Daily Journal there was “nothing shady” about the deal, responded to McQueen’s concerns. Preslar said the city had been discussing purchasing the building for about a month but did not elaborate in what manner that discussion took place. According to the city’s minutes of each public meeting in 2013, the issue was brought up only once and that was when Smart, in September, briefly commented the city had approved the purchase.
Preslar said the council was limited in the time it had to decide on whether to purchase the building because the offer would not be good after Aug. 16.The city respected the privacy of the sellers by not advertising the price at which it was sold.
Councilman Eddie Martin questioned whether or not what the council did was legal or illegal since there was no vote on the purchase of the building in open session on public record.
“If it was illegal, what do we need to do to make it legal,” Martin asked. “Let’s make it right.”
McQueen firmly agreed with the council’s decision to purchase the building, just not in the way it was purchased.
“I don’t think situation was handled appropriately or legally, but it’s done and there’s nothing we can do,” McQueen said. “I’m promising the citizens of Hamlet that if something like this happens we will discuss it in this meeting and not through email.”