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Ethics vs. motives County debates property auction

Friday, June 27, 2014 - Updated: 10:30 AM


FONDA -- Questions about ethics and motives came into play Tuesday as the Montgomery County Legislature considered a potential solution for an error made during an open-bid auction of county-owned real property last month.

The legislature voted 4-3, with one abstention, to defeat a resolution aimed at selling a 3-acre parcel and two adjacent parcels in the town of Glen to Buanno Holding for a total of $185,000.

The resolution would have rejected Buanno's original bid of $135,000 for just the 3-acre parcel, which was supposed to include two other parcels at the county tax foreclosure auction in May.

District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz, who abstained, said another entity has made an offer that is $75,000 more than what they would sell the property to Buanno Holding.

"We are throwing $75,000 out that could lessen the burden on the taxpayers of this county," Weitz said. "Passing this through is unfair and unethical, among other things."

Weitz said legislators were voting on the resolution out of sympathy for the bidder.

"How is sympathy different than favoritism, cronyism and nepotism? It is no different. You are favoring one party over another because you feel bad for them," Weitz said prior to the vote. "We were elected to represent not an individual, or specific group, but every taxpayer in this county. We offered this property to one group. We didn't go out for RFP or online tax auction. It is unfair to the taxpayers."

The resolution was in response to an issue raised at the May 27 board meeting, when the legislature became aware of the error. During the auction, the 3-acre parcel was sold to the highest bidder, and the other two parcels ended up going to another bidder who backed out of the sale.

For several weeks, the legislature has considered options to rectify the issue. While the legislators agree the three parcels should be sold together, they are not able to agree on how to move forward.

Some propose selling the parcels through an online auction or putting the parcels through a request for proposal (RFP) process.

"An RFP is what I would feel most comfortable with," said District 7 Legislator Barbara Wheeler, who voted against the resolution. "I believe we need to get as much money as possible with this property being one unit. I also believe we were elected to serve Montgomery County first and foremost."

District 2 Legislator Thomas Quackenbush said his decision was based on the merits of what happened, and took offense to it being considered unethical.

"I am not voting for someone I know for it to be favoritism," Quackenbush said. "What I do know is he did come in and successfully bid on parcel 43. He did that fair and square. He got it and then was told he couldn't have it only because we decided that we wanted to change it."

Quackenbush said the other entity never offered a bid at the auction.

District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond said property sat vacant for three years without an offer for purchase.

"Our role in government is to foreclose property and put it to a responsible person," Dimond said. "Buanno Holding is the only one to make a valid offer."

District 9 Legislator Alexander Kuchis reminded the board that county treasurer Shawn Bowerman advised against offering the property to Buanno.

Bowerman said June 14 that foreclosed properties have always gone through a tax auction. If there were properties that failed to receive a bid, then the county would seek and accept proposals at the time, he said.

Kuchis said he is not comfortable selling it to one entity when there was another offer on the table.

"I have a huge issue with making it look like we are handing Buanno a $75,000 profit," he said, voting no to the resolution.

District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly also voted against the resolution. District 6 Legislator John Duchessi was not present. The resolution failed.


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