Mayor decides split votes on property sale
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Although their lease isn’t up until March 2018, members of the Cove Saddle Club discarded their red club shirts on the EDC’s reception counter when they left Tuesday night’s Copperas Cove city council meeting after learning the property the club has leased since 1993 is to be sold to the highest bidder after all.
Even if the club were to find another location in which to hold events and activities, the members made it clear the name “Copperas Cove” will not be associated with the club any longer.
The city council voted both to rescind its decision on removing the 15.744-acre property from the market and to authorize city manager Andrea Gardner to approach the highest bidder for the property.
Council members George Duncan and David Morris sided with place 7 councilman Matt Russell in votes against both agenda items. Councilmen James Pierce Jr., Dan Yancey and Jay Manning remained cast the three “yes” votes. Place 5 council member Kirby Lack was absent Tuesday evening. At the previous meeting, Lack was in favor of removing the property from the sales block.
With the same 3-3 tie for both agenda items, Mayor Frank Seffrood broke the ties with his own “yes” votes.
The city received a total of five bids on the property, in the amounts of $65,000, $69,900, $71,500, $79,000 and $88,246. According to documentation when the council officially put the property up for sale, the fair market value was listed as $69,900.
Prior to the vote, discussion centered around city employee’s proposed 1 percent cost of living adjustment and whether the sale of the Boys Ranch Road property would help fund that.
During the discussion prior to authorizing the city manager to contact the highest bidder for the property, councilman Matt Russell said the idea of using funds from the property sale to help guarantee COLA should be “set aside.” He also believed the council was going “down the wrong road” where the club was concerned.
“Leaders change their minds when they get more and more information to make an accurate decision,” Russell said. “You’ve got to do the hard right; to me, we’re doing a very easy wrong.”
Place 4 councilman Jay Manning said the decision wasn’t easy. “To my understanding, it is a matter of honor,” Manning said. “I wasn’t the one that set this in motion, but once it’s put in motion, you have to do the honorable thing.”
Mayor Frank Seffrood gave his input, stating that throughout life you make decisions, you stand by the decision. “It is easier to walk away with an easy decision; you haven’t made a decision, you caved in.”
As at prior meetings, Saddle Club members and member/prospective buyer Anton Pospisil appealed to the council during citizens’ forum.
“(I’m asking) for reconsideration to allow the club to continue to use the property, either long-term lease, or a lease-purchase, to be given the option to purchase the property,” Pospisil said. “We were never afforded that opportunity. This goes all the way back to 2015. I attended the meeting on 6 September of last year. There were four properties listed for sale. The least amount of money was for the Boys Ranch Road property.”
Those monies, Pospisil said, would have guaranteed a COLA for employees. Two of those properties were removed from the sale listing at the same meeting, “for reasons only the council knows,” Pospisil added.
Club treasurer Tracy Wilson, who emailed a statement to the council as well as local media last week, also addressed the council in citizens’ forum.
“It’s been abundantly clear that the council seems to have attempted to railroad the Copperas Cove Saddle Club out of town,” Wilson said, adding that founding members wanted to purchase the land 24 years ago and learned at the last meeting that five years after the club began leasing the property, that the land could have been purchased.
“At no time did anyone notify the Saddle Club that the rules changed and the property could be purchased,” she said. “We weren’t notified in writing or otherwise that the land would be up for sale.” She called it “a deplorable way to treat an organization that supported the city with its tax dollars, especially for over two-and-a-half decades.”
Wilson also pointed out that the council approved the purchase of two new garbage trucks and asked why the city couldn’t put off purchasing one of those trucks until another time and fund the COLA instead.
During the discussion prior to the vote, city manager Andrea Gardner explained that the garbage truck purchases were being funded by annual bonds, something which the city is not allowed to use to fund things like COLAs.
The last action by the city council for city-owned and leased property ended on a much higher note when last summer, the council authorized the city to convey Main Street and Halstead Avenue properties to Cove House Emergency Homeless Shelter. The shelter had been leasing the properties from the city since 1996. Those properties had been donated to the city in 1982 by the Dewald family and federal grant funds were used to improve them; therefore, it could not be sold in that manner. The property was deeded to Cove House with the stipulation that it continue to operate as a homeless shelter.
The Copperas Cove city council authorized the sale of both the Boys Ranch Road property and Allin House, home of Copperas Cove’s first mayor and a Texas state historical landmark, in September 2016. To date, Allin House remains unsold.
The city’s other tenants which still lease city-owned property include Star Group – Veterans Helping Veterans, which leases the former Copperas Cove Police Department building at 202 S. 4th St., and the Hill Country Community Action Association, which leases three properties and two buildings for its Copperas Cove Head Start programs.
In November 2015, councilman George Duncan called for the development of a policy for city-owned property which at that time included Cove House, Hill Country Community Action Association/Head Start, Star Group – Veterans Helping Veterans, and the Cove Saddle Club. The idea at that time as discussed by the council was to come up with a way to give tenants a three-year “plan” for the city stepping away from leasing property.