April 23, 2014. Dear Editor,
Since Commissioner Nathan Miller is credited with using the sales tax allocation as retribution to Boone for the so-called inability to sell the old high school, I have some observations and questions. First, I live in the county, own a small business and am married to a farmer with a son in the same occupation. And, I rarely approve of Boone politics. But, I don’t agree with the sales tax allocation; it is not in the best interest of our county and definitely not equitable. In 1987, a Republican- controlled board of commissioners voted 5-0, in our best interest, when they went to a sales tax allocation based on population. They backed their decision with hard facts and good common sense. And, blaming Boone for failure to sell the old WHS is the greatest atrocity.
The blame squarely lies on many and I am convinced the “powers that be” are responsible for the lies, corruption and malfeasance impacting the common citizen who suffers the collateral damage of their in-game.
Starting with the school board, they owned the old WHS. Members have changed over the years. However, the record shows Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy was a constant, in a changing guard, as the negotiating agent for the school board. The record shows the highest bid the school board received for the old WHS was $5 million, prior to the mysterious bid of $25 million offered through Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy [school board minutes of 12/20/2005].
Why did Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy acquire the services of an appraisal firm, in February of 2006, to appraise the old high school without the school board’s approval? His daddy denied a public record’s request for the appraisal, claiming he owned it! The record shows the Local Government Commission posed this same question. Then Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy submitted an invoice for reimbursement for the appraisal on 3/20/20016 and was reimbursed without the school board’s knowledge on 3/31/2006. The finance director said it looked like a reasonable expense. Why, after Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy was reimbursed, did his daddy not release a copy to the school board? Why did his daddy tell the school board to deny public access to the document under “client-attorney” privilege? Why did Commissioner Miller’s daddy say he owned it when 14 days after the appraisal was signed, he submitted an invoice for reimbursement? Why, after 5 years of denying public access, did Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy release the document to the school board and then in-turn to his son? Keep in mind that Commissioner Nathan Miller is employed by his daddy’s law firm and it is his daddy’s law firm that has been the school board attorney for years.
For the record, after making numerous public requests to the school board and Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy, I received this response in 2010: “Dr. Hemric has asked me to respond to the first three requests in your email dated June 15, 2010. Your first three requests are not requests to inspect and copy public records as defined in the statute. However, Dr. Hemric has agreed that I may provide you with the answers to these questions. The appraisal was signed on March 7, 2006. The appraisal was signed by Pattie J. Tennille and David R. Roberts. The appraisal was not approved by the Board of Education.”
The High Country Press reported when the appraisal was finally released in July of 2011: “The old Watauga High School and surrounding 75-acre property fell in value from $15.581 million to $7.87 million in five years, according to two appraisals released to the public last Friday.
Tennille & Associates Inc. conducted a March 7, 2006, appraisal worth $15.58 million. The five-year-old appraisal stated, ‘The building improvements add no value to the property…the highest and best use of the site is demolition and cleanup of the existing improvements.’”
If the public had known about the 2006 appraisal, would the “powers that be” been able to decline all of the $30-million bids without public outcry? Commissioner Deal was quoted as saying the offers were real and they could act on any one of them immediately. He also said, speaking for both boards (commissioners and school board): “Deal said advisers said the boards would receive more money in three to four years than they could at present. Deal called the approach ‘conservative’ and the committee was confident of a sale at the desired price or more.” “ He also said the purchase offers on the current exceeded informal appraisal amount. Deal said at least five serious written offers had been received, the highest base line figure of $33 million. He said the property would continue to increase in value …”. He said there was ‘continuous serious interest’ in the property because developers realized there was no other property of its size to accommodate mixed-use development in Boone, and that five formal offers had been submitted so far.”
I divert your attention to the last sentence above. This is significant since it was Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy that requested, for the school board, that the old high school property be zoned B-3. Boone granted that application. It was Commissioner Perry Yates’ daddy-in-law that really wanted it zoned residential and pulled out when Boone wanted assurance of mixed-use development. It is not Boone’s fault the county accepted a speculative bid in lieu of a bona fide bid.
And, Boone was not on the committee that decided to not sell the old WHS at $33 million; but, the invoice records of the school board show that Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy was handling the negotiations from 2006 through 2008. The minutes of the school board show that on 11/3/2006, the school board instructed Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy to transfer title of the old WHS to the county. Why did his daddy not prepare that conveyance?
The minutes of the school board show that on 8/3/2007, “A motion was made by Ron Henries and seconded by Dr. Warren to transfer ownership of the current WHS to Watauga County Commissioners for use as collateral for bonds for construction of the new WHS. A lease from the Commissioners for the current WHS was requested until the new facility is completed. The motion passed unanimously.” Why did Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy not prepare that conveyance until 2/19/2008? The conveyance doesn’t include any of the conditions of transfer agreed upon by the school board. Why did the school board not review and approve that conveyance? The answer may be found in transfer of the guard and in ownership of the new WHS. Collateral for bonds and capital lease would make the school board the owner of the asset.
The invoice records of the school board show the law firm that Commissioner Miller works for and his daddy owns billed the school board $29,000 in 2006, $20,000 in 2007, and $21,000 in 2008 and reflects that the majority of the billing was related to acting as selling agent of the old WHS. [The invoices amounted to $8,000 in 2009 and $8,500 in 2010.]
The Watauga Democrat reported on 10/6/2006: “According to Watauga County commission Chairman Jim Deal, all the development companies that originally made offers or inquiries on the property are still in contact with the county about the property, even after the commissioners adopted a plan in July to keep the school for several years. Deal said that none of the companies had withdrawn their offers even though the board set an asking price of $36 million, about 10 percent higher than the best written offer of $33 million. ‘From our perspective, the (ordinance) changes have not had a serious impact,’ Deal said, referring to the town’s adoption of zoning ordinances regulating large-scale ‘big-box’ retail stores and limiting development on designated steep slopes.”
By now, the real estate market has crashed and the blame lies squarely with speculators and not Boone. And, on 4/21/2009, the county declares the old WHS surplus property and lists it for $28 million. This listing includes the $2.5 million Smitherman Winkler property the commissioners bought from Commissioner Deal’s client back in June of 2005.
In 2010, an offer on part of the old WHS property is made; the offer is rejected by the county.
In June of 2011, Integra appraised the old WHS property at $7.87 million.
In June of 2011, Miller Properties, makes an offer of $10 million, $20 million less than their offer of $30 million in 2006. Bid is rejected. [The invoices from Commissioner Nathan Miller’s daddy to the school board show a considerable amount of phone calls to Miller Properties between 2006 and 2008. When the $10 million dollar offer was made in 2011, Deal & Mosley were representing Miller Properties. Who was representing Miller Properties from 2006 to 2008?] Also, Harris makes an offer of $7.5 million. According to High County Press, in July 2011, the commissioners passed a resolution to counter the two previous offers with an offer of $20 million.
In September of 2012, Campus Crest, makes an offer of $15 million with Miller Properties acting as buyers agent for 10% commission. Fugua Acquisitions brought an offer of $16.8 million also which became part of a public bidding war on the floor of the commissioners meeting. Then Perry Yates’ daddy-in-law comes to our rescue with short-lived offer of $18.948 million with a 5% commission netting the county $18 million. The Watauga Democrat reported: “The amount of land to be used for commercial tenants and the property devoted to student housing units would be determined by the market studies and project designers,” the letter states. Templeton noted that plans are uncertain and that much time, effort and money must be spent on due diligence before the plans are finalized. In addition to securing zoning changes and water allocations from the Town of Boone, the project will need market studies, topographic maps, surveys, environmental studies and more, he said.”
In June of 2013, Fugua Acquisitions, makes an offer of $14.2 million. The Watauga Democrat reported: “Armstrong appeared at the meeting Tuesday evening asking for approval of the offer, saying he represented a serious, experienced buyer willing to work with what he called “onerous” demands instituted by the town of Boone. “This is a convergence of a lot of restraints on a developer, and it takes somebody who’s done this before,” he said. Miller, an attorney, said he would not agree to the contract without having more time to read it. He asked other commissioners whether they would accept the $14.2 million figure, and most murmured no. Commissioner Perry Yates objected to the proposed 7 percent commission — roughly $994,000 — to be paid by the county at closing. “My personal belief is that the commission has to be looked at hard,” Yates said. Miller countered that commissioners ought to consider the net amount to the county after the commission — in this case, roughly $13.2 million. He proposed tabling the offer for the Aug. 6 meeting, at which time the county might decide to make a counter-offer. … Armstrong noted that he had submitted a $27 million offer on the property in 2007, which he said was turned down at the time because it was below the asking price. He noted that both the market and the town regulations have changed significantly since that time, resulting in the lower offer now. Armstrong also brought an unsuccessful offer in fall 2012 on behalf of Sanctuary Management, which eventually offered $16.8 million for the property during a “bidding war” with another company during a commissioners’ meeting. He asked that such a situation be avoided in the future if the county could help it. ” Why did Commissioner Yates balk at 7% commission ($994,000); but, not the 5% commission ($948,000) his daddy-in-law proposed?
Big question, why has both the school board and the commissioners turned down so many bona fide offers?
And, what is really eating Commissioner Nathan Miller, is it his own failure, when he sold out the rural property owners, of the 1200 parcels, for Boone’s New River Water In-Take Project? He was flying high the night he turned a deaf ear to rural citizens who asked him to deny Boone’s watershed request? And, he said to the Boone officials, “remember this when we put in our request for a water allocation”. Isn’t Commissioner Miller really upset because he was foolish enough to think he could expect Boone to give him something, no written agreement or even a mere promise. Commissioner Miller foolishly sold us down the river and now he expects the rural people to suffer the collateral damage of his sales tax scheme!