Camden mayor's firm to pocket $36,200 in city land deal - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

  • Did Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham act ethically in this land deal?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    Yes
    31%
    145 votes
    No
    57%
    268 votes
    Not sure
    12%
    56 votes

Camden mayor's firm to pocket $36,200 in city land deal

Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham

By Jody Barr - bio | email

CAMDEN, SC (WIS) - Camden city council voted Tuesday to approve spending $362,000 on land that could eventually become the site of the city's new recreation center, according to documents obtained during a WIS investigation. The city's mayor, Jeffrey Graham's real estate firm handled the sale of the property to the city.

The property is currently deeded to Robert E. David and is located at 823 Campbell Street in Camden. The deal would turn the 8.9 acres into city property once the city and Graham's family's firm finalize the contract on the purchase. The property was listed for sale at $400,000 in January, but Graham said the city agreed in February to pay $362,000 to close the sale.

The same property sold in 2002 for $190,000, according to county tax records.

Graham, answering questions the apparent conflict of interest between his firm, his elected position, and state ethics laws prohibiting elected official's involvement in such transactions, said he recused himself from any of the votes concerning the deal. "From the day council started talking about it, I discussed it, wrote a written statement that I would not participate and I have not participated in any negotiations with the property; I did have that conflict," Graham said.

Graham said he met with the city's attorney and agreed to stay out of the council meetings where the land buy would be brought up, "I've been up front about it, I've been up front with council," Graham said. "I gave them the information on the property. Matter of fact, in executive sessions - I left the building - I didn't even participate any further."

"I don't know that there's another clear way to do it than that because, again in a small town, we do commercial real estate. There aren't many of us that do and we do," Graham added.

The property is zoned commercial, which allows Graham's firm to seek out a higher seller's commission on the sale. Most commercial transactions net a 10 percent commission, which Graham said his firm would receive. The commission totals $36,200.

Council voted March 22 to pay the $362,000 for the property. Graham said he did not vote on the purchase. Real estate records show the property went up for sale Jan. 7, 2011 and was under contract with the city 30 days later on Feb. 7, 2011. Council did not approve the purchase until March 22, more than a month after the property came off the market. The city, according to the mayor, does not have a firm plan for the property.

The city's purchase price was $38,000 less than the original listing price of $400,000. The property last sold in May 2002 for $190,000, according to county tax records. The county auditor placed a value of $178,000 on the property during the last assessment. The city paid $184,000 more for the property than the county's value.

WIS requested the city council minutes from the March 8, 2011 first reading of the property purchase resolution and the minutes from the March 22 approval. The mayor's office said the minutes were not approved and that the city was making some changes to the minutes, but did not have the specifics on what the changes involved.

Graham said he has complied with the provisions of the ethics rules and submitted the proper documents to council and to the city's administration. The mayor also said he contacted the ethics commission to let them know that he would report his earnings on the land sale. "Graham Realty will be compensated for the sale," Graham said. 

Graham said his firm has represented the family selling the property for many years. "We actually have other property of theirs listed right now," said Graham.

According to South Carolina ethics laws, a sitting mayor is prohibited from selling property to the municipality he represents.

The commission's rules of conduct states: "No public official, public member, or public employee may make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use his office, membership, or employment to influence a governmental decision in which he, a member of his immediate family, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated has an economic interest. A public official, public member, or public employee who, in the discharge of his official responsibilities, is required to take an action or make a decision which affects an economic interest of himself, a member of his immediate family, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated shall:

(1) prepare a written statement describing the matter requiring action or decisions and the nature of his potential conflict of interest with respect to the action or decision;

(4) if he is a public official, other than a member of the General Assembly, he shall furnish a copy of the statement to the presiding officer of the governing body of any agency, commission, board, or of any county, municipality, or a political subdivision thereof, on which he serves, who shall cause the statement to be printed in the minutes and require that the member be excused from any votes, deliberations, and other actions on the matter on which the potential conflict of interest exists and shall cause the disqualification and the reasons for it to be noted in the minutes;

(5) if he is a public member, he shall furnish a copy to the presiding officer of any agency, commission, board, or of any county, municipality, or a political subdivision thereof, on which he serves, who shall cause the statement to be printed in the minutes and shall require that the member be excused from any votes, deliberations, and other actions on the matter on which the potential conflict of interest exists and shall cause such disqualification and the reasons for it to be noted in the minutes."

Source: S.C. Code of Laws Section 8-13-700

The ethics commission would not confirm or deny an investigation into the Camden property sale. The city is expected to close on the property within the next several days.

Copyright 2011 WIS. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly