Letter to the Editor: Glaring conflicts of interest in school district land purchase; counter opinion

Stock image, St. George News

COUNTER OPINION to opinion of St. George News columnist Bryan Hyde (See: July 28 Perspectives: Iron County School District, accountability or witch-hunt?) – I was a bit taken aback by the remarks of Bryan Hyde that were published in your paper regarding the issues behind land acquisition procedures concerning and involving the Iron County School District and School Board.

I find it odd that some citizens do not see the glaring conflict of interest in the fact that the president of the school board (Michelle Jorgenson) is also the real estate agent that represented the buyer (in this case the Iron County School District) in the land acquisition involving the large commercial property (located next to district offices) purchased in 2013 and brought into question by Doug Hall, member of the Iron County Taxpayers Alliance.

In addition to Mr. Hall’s concerns, I wish to point out that anytime we have someone casting an influential vote on whether land should be purchased, who is also the active real estate agent on the deal, surely folks must understand that we have a conflict of interest.

Ms. Jorgensen should have recused herself as a voting board member on this deal, or she should have recused herself as an active real estate agent on the deal. She simply cannot call for a closed-door meeting (which IS the type of meeting that was held in this instance, but which was inappropriate for making this type of (land-acquisition) decision anyway; school board members should not be holding closed-door meetings wherein the public is excluded, except for those portions of such meetings wherein personal issues regarding employees or issues having to do with building security are discussed).

Ms. Jorgenson remarked at one point in time, when questioned about accepting realtor’s fees for a meeting wherein she cast a vote on whether an actual sale should be completed, that she had “returned the fees.” Why had she ever taken them in the first place, when she was surely aware of the unethical slant that would be cast upon such activity? At another point, when referring to the realtor’s fees, she remarked that she had “given them back to the school board.” Why in the world would she give realtor’s fees that were paid by the seller of the property to the buyer of the property, thus ultimately reducing the amount that the buyer believed he was being paid for his property?

If someone is “returning fees,” they should be returned to the person who initially paid them, in this case the seller of the property, NOT the school board.

These are things that should be investigated by the Utah Real Estate Commission, and I hope that these issues will be closely examined.

Many of us would also like to know who works in the broker’s office where Ms. Jorgensen is employed as a real estate agent. (Utah law requires that ALL real estate agents work under, and are closely supervised by a broker). The broker in this deal would have earned a tidy sum (around 3 percent of the agreed-upon acquisition price). You can bet that those fees were NOT returned to the seller, and if they were “given” to the school board, this too is unethical and most likely illegal according to Utah Real Estate Law. I’ll let YOU figure out what 3 percent of $1,600,000.00 adds up to, but I believe you will agree that it is more than many Utahns earn in an entire year. I would like to know if anyone earning realtor’s or broker’s fees on this deal are friends or relatives of Ms. Jorgenson, both the buyer’s agent AND the school board president leading the charge by proposing a resolution to spend $1,600,000.00 to acquire the property and presenting said proposal in a closed-door meeting).

There are also other important questions that must be answered about this property acquisition: Why was no appraisal required by the lending bank? Even if the bank had recently done an appraisal, rules regarding initiation of a new loan require that a new appraisal be done, and considering the fact that the property had been on the market for over three years, SHOULD have been done for the simple purpose of protecting the taxpayers, who are ultimately paying for ANY AND ALL property acquisitions, repairs and upkeep. Why was the loan signed through the particular bank that is carrying the note?

As a property owner in Iron County, I would like to be assured that the best deal possible on any loan was sought and secured, and I would like to rest assured that no nepotism or favoritism was practiced in this loan assignation.

Considering the fact that there were, in the past, at least 4 relatives of Kent Peterson (Iron County School District Business Administrator) working for the school district during Peterson’s tenure, I for one have many concerns regarding inappropriate influences, particularly nepotism, when these kinds of business decisions are being made.

Also, who was the title company involved in the sale, why were they chosen, and how much did they earn? I would like to see a full disclosure of the closing documents before I feel comfortable and fully informed regarding who actually profited on this sale.

According to an article that appeared on Sunday, July 27th in the Cedar City Daily News, Michelle Jorgensen will also be acting as the leasing agent on this property, because the school board plans on leasing the property until such time as they choose to use it for school district business. Do we REALLY believe that the Iron County School District and Board should be in the landlord business, collecting rents, choosing tenants and focusing on building maintenance issues that always accompany the business of leasing properties? I, for one,  DO NOT!  Ms. Jorgensen has publicly proclaimed that, although she will be the leasing agent, she will not be earning fees or an agent’s commission. This however, does NOT apply to her broker, who WILL earn fees on the deal. Who works for the broker? Is anyone in the broker’s office a relative or friend of Ms. Jorgenson? If so, we have another conflict of interest.

I am concerned about how many other land acquisitions this school board has undertaken, about which we know very little. Rumor has it that the board has purchased several houses behind Parowan High School, which are now considered “school district property” and are therefore exempt from property taxes, yet the board is discussing possibly renting these out to some of the Iron County School District teachers. My questions are: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY? From whom were these homes purchased and for how much? Were appraisals conducted, and if so, by whom? Who would choose who is invited to live in these homes until such time as they are leveled for a proposed parking lot? Who would decide upon and collect the rents? Why would a teacher be given a “deal” on rent on a nice house in Parowan, a “pretty sweet deal” from which the rest of the tax payers would be excluded?

Yes, teachers work hard, but so do many other citizens in the county. Why should ANY of our citizens be considered for special favors (particularly regarding everyone’s most costly daily need: housing)? Why have we not seen full disclosure on this very fishy property acquisition?

Perhaps you are wearing nose plugs, but something here does not smell right to me. I feel that some serious questions beg answers, and I do not believe I should be regarded as ill-willed or out-of-line for thinking so.

Submitted by Kathy Sullivan, Taxpayer and Iron County Property Owner

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them; they do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News.

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19 Comments

  • Brian July 30, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Thanks Kathy! This whole think stinks on ice. Frankly the State Auditor and Attorney General should be involved in this, because lots of lines are being crossed.

    • UT AG a joke July 30, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      The Office of the Utah Attorney General is a joke, one that is mired in scandals involving bribery and questionable dealings involving criminal elements. You surely would have to ask if the AG office were to investigate this, would the UT AG be bought off, bribed if you will, to dismiss the whole matter?

  • Bob July 30, 2014 at 10:34 am

    It will be interesting to see what shakes out. This has so many major conflicts/issues at so many levels. This shows gross misconduct and I hope dismissal or fines are levied against guilty ones. Time to clean house….

  • JAR July 30, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Interesting preliminary discussion.
    Will there(or) will there not be cat fur flying and window being shut shortly?

  • sing4money July 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    How come Bryan didn’t have any of this info in his article? I have always thought he was a fair and balanced kind of journalist. Come on Bryan, why did you not include this info?

    • You Kidding? July 31, 2014 at 4:17 am

      Brian appears to be heavily biased with his opinions, and his articles reflect his opinion, not facts or reflection of any research. Good reporters research and write facts. Poor reporters only write based on their personal knee-jerk opinion, and they will never side against their good ole boy pals.

    • Joanna July 31, 2014 at 8:58 am

      Not surprised in the least. Most of this person’s articles have glaring omissions, and are completely fallacy-ridden. I don’t recall ever reading an argument of his that could hold much water – they’re all pretty weak. But they are touted as “opinions”, which he is certainly entitled to. What I find much more offensive is his juvenile writing style. You’ll see better journalistic form and integrity in most high school newspapers b/c at least they have advisers who help prevent the kids from embarrassing themselves 🙂 Poor Joyce and the rest of the STG News team unfortunately can’t save this fellow from himself. I keep looking forward to the day when they find a replacement for him who has more meaningful and thought-provoking thoughts to share with the STG community. Thanks to whomever wrote this letter to the editor expressing their concerns!

      • JAR July 31, 2014 at 11:20 am

        Joanna,
        Sounds like your throwing your resum’e out there hoping for a job.
        Forget it. Editor Joyce knows balanced opinions. You ain’t balanced.
        I agree with you however, regarding the article of possible inside dealings in Cedar City. But at this point, speculations.

        • Joanna July 31, 2014 at 3:22 pm

          Heaven forbid! I’d be almost as bad as “Perspectives Guy”. You are certainly right about me being “unbalanced”. Hehe…

        • Chris August 1, 2014 at 5:33 pm

          It’s obvious you could not get the job since you don’t know the distinction between “your” and “you’re.”

  • Kerry myers July 30, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    This stinks to high-heaven. Lots of questions that must be answered and information that must be disclosed to Iron County residents. Very concerning to have corruption in our own back yard, a willful neglect for law, disregard for Iron County residents, misuse of taxpayer money and a good-old-boy-mentality for personal gain. We want all the answers and info and the offenders held accountable.

  • Robert July 31, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Sounds like Tracie Sullivan from the Spectrum wrote this not an unknown Kathy Sullivan. Interesting how she bashed Bryan from the St George News.

    I’m sure there are mistakes that have been made in how this was handled and I hope they will be corrected in the best interests of the ICSD and the tax payers.

    But until the review from the AG is published and the real facts come out not just accusations, all you people with your panties in a wad might want keep your opinions to yourself.

    I wonder who is really behind writing this letter. Kathy do you attend all the meetings? Where did you get all of your information Tracie. Or is that Kathy?

    I hope all is done in the best interest of the children. All of you conspiracy theory nuts wait for the facts before pointing that finger. You may be right but also you may be wrong.

    • sing4money August 1, 2014 at 9:54 am

      Robert, it stll doesn’t explain why STG didn’t report this info! I would like Joyce to chime in….Why do you allow only half the info to be reported?

      • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic August 1, 2014 at 10:32 am

        Greetings, S4M. Joyce here – chiming in.
        This is an opinion piece written in response to Mr. Hyde’s earlier opinion column – I think, actually, you get that.
        Simply, we’re not ready to report on this yet. I expect we will though. 🙂
        Thanks for asking,
        ST. GEORGE NEWS | STGnews.com
        Joyce Kuzmanic
        Editor in Chief

    • Kathy Sullivan August 2, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      I apologize for failing to respond to this letter sooner, but I just saw it. I am NOT Tracie Sullivan (no relation that I know of. “Sullivan” is my married name. My husband’s relatives are all from Salt Lake City, although way back, they were from the Eureka area). My maiden name is Topham, but I’ve been married for 38 years now, so most people know me by “Sullivan,” rather than “Topham.” I am only a second or third cousin to Marshall Topham, your recently retired Washington County School Superintendant, so please do NOT think that my opinions have anything to do with him, because they do not. In fact, I really do not even know Marshall all that well, as he was three years ahead of me in high school, and our fathers, as first cousins, were not all that close. I own properties in both Iron County and Salt Lake County, and my two brothers and both our parents all own properties in Iron County, although, as with any other close or distant relatives, my opinions are my OWN, and are not theirs. I am writing this portion of my letter from my home in Salt Lake City, although my original letter was written last week from Cedar City. My concerns are real, I believe my facts are straight, and I AM truly concerned about the things that I mentioned in my original letter to the editor. I have an inactive real estate license, so I do believe that many of the business dealings (particularly with the commercial property next to the school district office) DO need looking into. When one is earning their real estate license, the classes a person is required to take focus relentlessly on the importance of “honest and open disclosure” in the closing documents, as well as the avoidance of a conflict of interest in exactly whom the agents are representing. One of my greatest concerns is that Michelle Jorgenson has gone back and forth in interviews when asked about the fees she earned on that deal, finally saying that she would not answer any more questions until consulting her lawyer. I wonder, as stated in my original letter, if the seller of the property has any idea that the fees she claims she “returned” in one interview and “gave to the school district” in another interview were shuffled around in this way? If not, then this seller should be “brought into the loop,” because there are thousands of dollars this seller paid that he believed were part of the cost of selling the property. I am eager to stand corrected if I am wrong, but I do NOT believe, from what I know through earning and holding a real estate agent’s license, that the buyer’s agent (Ms. Jorgenson, representing the school district) is free to just “give” those fees to whomever she pleases; from what I know, I believe they should have been returned to the seller, as the fee schedule changed if and when, as Ms. Jorgenson states, she realized she could not collect a fee and vote on the purchase as well. I am also concerned, as stated, about the earnings of the broker’s office, and what kinds of fees will be changing hands if and when these properties are leased out and handled by Ms. Jorgenson as the “leasing agent,” (as that has been the plan of the school board, as stated by Ms. Jorgenson). As stated in my original letter, I am equally bothered by the fact that many decisions regarding this acquisition were made in a closed-door meeting, as this is CLEARLY illegal and unethical. My brother living in Cedar City is very interested in what is going on with the school district, has attended many of their meetings in the past, and is interested in attending meetings in the future. He attended the meeting that was held last Wednesday (August 30th) which was part of the Iron County School District’s “retreat”; the school board group started out breakfasting as a group at the Main Street Grill in Cedar, then moved for the actual “meeting” portion to Hunter Conference Center on the SUU campus. Kent Peterson, who was supposed to be taking minutes of the meeting, arrived (with the superintendant) quite awhile after the meeting had commenced, at which time Peterson began taking notes. I was unable to attend this meeting, as I had returned to Salt Lake to take care of my garden here, as my husband is a truck driver who is away from home 5 1/2 days per week, so there is no one else to look after our lawn and garden right now in these hot summer months. I will be returning to Cedar City next week, as my 88-year-old father is quite ill, and I am also doing all I can to help and emotionally support my 84-year-old mother as far as making decisions about medical care for my father. As far as my long-term “connections” to Cedar City and Iron County, as stated in my original letter, I do own property in Iron County. I also grew up in Cedar, graduated from Cedar High (back then, the Redmen were “rivals” with St. George, although we had quite a few more kids in our student body in Cedar; hard to believe all the growth that has taken place in both Cedar and ST. George, but frankly, the reason some of the issues we are talking about are worrisome are probably due to the rapid growth, the fact that, in the old days everyone just “trusted” everyone else, and accountability issues were not considered as important as they are now. I just received the tax notices for my property in Iron County last week, so certainly this is an appropriate time to be concerned about the ways in which our tax dollars are being spent. One thing I learned last week is that two of Iron County’s school board members are running unopposed in the upcoming election. I find this kind of sad, because I do think there are many good citizens who will do right by the adult citizens and children of Iron County; I also believe that having to “work” a bit in order to be elected to a position wherein one is representing the taxpayers is healthier for our system of government and for accountability to the public , rather than when one simply keeps their position because no one else wants to take a turn in government. I’ve tried to talk my brother into running for a school board position, but he has had some health problems himself and does not believe he can serve (or even file to run) at this time. I have no ill will toward anyone in Cedar or St. George. I simply feel that there are dealings taking place that must be brought out into the light of day. I also feel (as mentioned in my original letter) that the broker in the office wherein Michelle Jorgenson is an active agent needs to closely look at and account for fees collected on any land deals involving the Iron County School Board. If there is a conflict of interest, it must be sorted out, and if fees are “returned” to ANY party involved in a sale, they must be returned to the rightful parties. Even if Ms. Jorgenson is willing to serve in the future (without being paid any agent’s fees) as the leasing agent on the commercial property in question, I believe this is inappropriate. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but something smells funny in the whole set-up, from my point of view.

      • Kerry August 4, 2014 at 11:34 am

        Kathy—thank you for all your time and efforts to give more visibility to these issues. We will all be watching very closely with expectations that all answers will be provided and truth shared with the public.

  • wlt5591 August 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    William August 8, 2014 at 10:10 am.
    This reply is to all those who have responded to Kathy’s response, via letter to the editor.
    I worked for the Iron County School District for six years. I watched the district (Superintendent, School Board and the Accountant} write their own set of rules and laws. The Iron County School Handbook didn’t mean a thing to any Administrator, nor the Mission Statement that hung in every school. I personally went to Iron County School District meetings reporting that MY DAUGHTER HAD BEEN ASAULTD by a young man during school time. This young man was immediately expelled out of the Iron County School District. MYSELF AS WELL AS MY WIFE was not even NOTIFIED about the incident. I found out 8 (eight) weeks after the incident happened, from my daughters school teacher that she reported it to, before reporting it to the principle. The principle wouldn’t even talk to me about it and slammed his office door in my face (I worked in the same building). The part that floored me was, the IRON COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD wouldn’t investigate this. The minutes of the School Board Meetings would not show that I had even brought this to their attention multiple times. The minutes writer is a person that should be under investigation, if he isn’t already. There has been many inaccuracies in minutes taken by him. I saw many of our children punished for things they didn’t deserve and were instigated by a higher authority at school. One other incident about the IRON COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD at this time is they wouldn’t allow a representative with you; when you had a meeting with them. I have proof of some of these meetings and this is your legal right to representation. It is sad to see that teachers are afraid to follow the handbooks and speak up about things that are not right, in fear of loosing their jobs. This IRON COUNTY DISTRICT has too much NEPITISM, HIRING OF NOT FULLY TRAINED PEOPLE FOR THE JOB and a COMMUNICATION BARRIER. WHO INSPECTS THE INSPECTORS (SCOOL BOARD, SUPERINTENDANT, ADMINISTRATOR, EVEN TEACHER)? Who inspects them? I have only scratched the surface. I could go on for hours.
    THERE IS ONE OF THESE SCHOOLBOARD MEMBERS SPOKEN OF ABOVE THAT IS ON THE STATE SCHOOL BOARD! THEY WOULD RATHER GO OUT DOOR TO DOOR GETTING SIGNATURES AGAINST PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS THAN INVESTIGATE A CHILDS ASAULT IN SCHOOL!!!! That word “ASAULT” shouldn’t even exist at school and to know that it was hid, swept under the rug but not investigated!

    This present Iron County School Board had nothing to do with what happened to me. How ever the last involved person on this Board was replaced about 2 years ago.
    NEED I REMIND EVERY SCHOOL BOARD, SUPERENTENDANT, PRINCIPLE, TEACHER, EMPLOYEE, EVERY EMPLOYEE IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEMS,
    WORK FOR ME, YOU AND EVERY TAX PAYER OUT THERE!
    I wouldn’t put it past the IRON COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD of today to get messed up in things that they are accused of; there are common since actions we all know; do we listen to our common since? NO, we all jump ahead of ourselves and have to suffer the consequences.

  • Tracie Sullivan September 1, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Obviously this is not written by me Robert. It’s comical to me you claim everyone is a conspiracy nut yet you are the one who believed I wrote this letter. I would think Joyce would verify whose writing the letters just as we do at The Spectrum. I never print anything I’m afraid to put my name on. Also, I’m on Bryan Hyde’s radio show every week I think if I was going to take him to task I would do it there not on a competing publication. And do you really think I’d be stupid enough to still use my last name if I was writing something anonymously – come on!! I really you should have thought your comment out before posting it. I mean really? As many Sullivan’s in the southern Utah area and you think just because you don’t know her she doesn’t exist so therefore must be me? There’s even more than one Tracie Sullivan in STG. I really feel you should have thought a little more before posting this. I write articles based on facts and investigation not my opinion except for my weekly column and I write that for The Spectrum who I work for.

  • bishpoul October 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    We need to find someone who can restore trust to the Washington County, Assessor’ Office. Too musch fraud and bullying going on. God bless America.

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