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
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