Officials seeking to collect $500,000

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, March 29, 2012

HAYNEVILLE — With three commissioners abstaining, the Lowndes County Commission voted Monday to authorize county attorney Hank Sanders “to use whatever measures necessary to collect” $500,000 that was supposed to be put in escrow for the purchase of Hayneville Plaza Building for use by the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission.

The South Central Alabama Broadband Project is an $86 million project designed to provide fiber optic cable infrastructure in Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox counties.

“In the agreement the night we bought the building there was to be $500,000 put in escrow,” Lowndes County Commissioner Dickson Farrior said. “We were given a $500,000 check that was no good.”

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Farrior was referring to a check to the Lowndes County Commission marked as a “loan to pay bond” on a First Citizens Bank account signed by Karl Bell, that was returned for “insufficient” funds.

Last June, the commission voted 3-2 over the objection of commissioners Farrior and Joseph Barganier to float a $3.5 million bond to purchase the Hayneville Plaza Building, which was appraised at $3.2 million.

The difference between the bond amount and the cost of the building included a deposit into the reserve fund, capitalized interest, a premium for municipal bond insurance, underwriter’s discount, other expenses and insurance and additional proceeds.

The official bond statement approved was subject to two agreements being executed, Sanders said.

He said at the time, one is a real estate lease agreement between Lowndes County and the Broadband Cooperative District that will provide for rent of the building to go toward payment of the bond and an agreement between South Central Alabama Broadband Cooperative District, Karl Bell, owner of the building, and Lowndes County that $500,000 of the bond proceeds will be set aside to pay that. The county will have no responsibility for paying the $500,000 or the interest, Sanders said.

In January, the Lowndes County Commission voted 3-2 over the objection of Farrior and Barganier to approve a compromise to return a $500,000 check to Bell and reportedly borrow $250,000 in connection with interest on bonds floated by the county to purchase the Hayneville Plaza.

The commission later voted unanimously to reconsider that compromise.

“The county needs that money. They were promised that money,” Farrior said Monday. “My motion is for the county to use whatever means necessary to collect that money.” Barganier seconded the motion.

Commission Chairman Charlie King Jr., along with commissioners Robert Harris and Marzett Thomas abstained with Farrior and Barganier voting in favor. The official 2-0 vote approved the measure.

“The statements made by Commissioner Farrior are false, politically motivated and meant only to slander Mr. Bell’s good name and reputation,” Bell’s attorney April England-Albright said in a written response Tuesday. “The truth is to date, Mr. Bell and the county commission have never entered into a formal agreement or understanding around the terms of a monetary exchange.  The check was fraudulently deposited without reaching a formal agreement with both parties.  After the meeting it was agreed that this check would not be deposited.  The attorney, administrator and Commissioner Farrior deposited the check at their own discretion without the input or knowledge from the other four commissioners or Mr. Bell.  Mr. Bell has done nothing wrong, and the commissioners should come forth with the truth immediately to stop the misrepresentation of the facts.  The slander must cease as a lawsuit will be filed.”