Lexington One: No Response is the Loudest of All

On June 5th, Mr. Mark Price of Gilbert sent an email to Mr. Jeff Jeff Salters, Chief Operations Officer of Lexington School District One with questions posed by Lake and Main. Following are the questions and Mr. Salter’ responses.

  • How was the purchase price calculated and who proposed it?
    • The price was negotiated with the seller through a series of conversations and negotiations.
  • Was the price negotiated?  
    • Yes
  • Was other land considered? If so, please give details of the land.  
    • Other properties in the area were considered. Disclosing that information could impact the potential future sale price of those properties and we would not want to harm those individuals in any way.
  • Did the seller solicit the board or did the board approach the seller?  
    • Since the land was located next door to Pelion High School, the district’s agent approached the seller.
  • Was the property listed for sale?
    •    No
  • What, if any, real estate person or company brokered the purchase?
    • The Educational Group, Inc.
  • If there was a brokering agent, what fees, including commission were paid?
    • 5% commission paid by the seller.
  • You mention a 5% commission was paid, was the usual fee for finding the land paid to The Educational Group as well? And if so, what amount was that?
    • The 5% commission is the fee paid to the Educational Group for finding the land.  The fee is paid by the seller.
  • Does Al Berry of The Educational Group, Inc. have any connections or relationships with any members of the Senior Leadership Team?
    • I’m not clear what you mean by “connections” to SLT.  Al has provided land acquisition services for many years to the district so all members of SLT know him.
  • Could you disclose the comps regarding the properties that were discussed and/or brought before the board without releasing any identifying information? We, the taxpayers, just want to know details of the other land that was considered and how the board arrived at the decision to purchase this land as opposed to the others.
    • Regarding comps, disclosing that information could impact the potential future sale price of those properties and we would not want to harm those individuals in any way.  It sounds like you are familiar with the County website for reviewing property information.  I would offer to you that it won’t take you long to review commercial property along HWY 302 and HWY 178 and notice that some per acre pricing is as high as $60,000/acre.  These properties were sold prior to sewer being available in the area, which increases the value of a piece of property.
  • It’s my understanding that reviewing information for redactions prior to releasing that information to the public is the responsibility of the Communications Officer. Why is an attorney fulfilling these duties?
    • We frequently involve attorneys in FOIA request reviews to make sure we are in compliance with the law.
  • Why is the board not being responsive to questions and instead directing the public to staff members at the district office?
    • The board is responding to emails and phone calls as they receive them.
  • Were the board members given all of the information that the attorney is currently reviewing regarding the land deal PRIOR to voting?
    • The board is very familiar with any land purchased and all associated costs and details prior to voting.

There are several problems with Mr. Salters’ answers.  

For instance, on how the price was calculated, Mr. Salters simply replied that “The price was negotiated with the seller through a series of conversations and negotiations.”  This does not tell us the math behind the price.  The $982,820 figure for 55 acres isn’t an intuitive or easily calculable price.  We want to know more about the arithmetic.

Particularly annoying is Mr. Salters’ answer to the question about lack of responsiveness from the Board.  “The board is responding to emails and phone calls as they receive them,” he wrote.  This is false.

My very first communication regarding this story was a text message to a member of the Board.  On the morning of May 22, I sent a link to The State newspaper’s story to this member saying “this looks bad.”  I received confirmation that the text was delivered, but I received no response.  Two days later, I sent another text to the member saying “No Comment?”  Again, delivered, but no response.  Fifty minutes later, I posted the first article on Lake and Main which was, mostly, the report in The State.

Two communications attempts and no response.

Two days later, on the morning of the 26th, I emailed Chairperson Debra Knight with questions posed in the post, Lexington School District 1 Property Purchase: UPDATE. Chair Knight’s answer a few hours later was to only refer me to the District’s website and Director of Communications, Mary Beth Hill.

Three communication attempts, ½ response from the Board.

I emailed Ms. Hill on May 29, a Tuesday following Veteran’s Day.  Nine days ago.  No response.

Four communication attempts, ½ response from the Board.

Two days ago, June 5, I again emailed Chairperson Knight to “comment per the official duties of the Chair as posted on the Lexington One policy website.”  I noted that the district’s own policy states “the duties of the Chair include be public spokesman for the board at all times except as this responsibility is specifically delegated to others.

Five communication attempts, 16 days, ½ response from the Board.

As for Mr. Salters’ exchange with Mr. Price, the COO is not elected by the citizens of District 1.  Mr. Salters’ decision is not final.  It is the official and moral responsibility of the elected school board to be accessible to, answer to and be accountable to taxpayers, voters and constituents.  The Lexington One School Board has failed all three of these responsibilities.  It’s “shared values,” as found on its webpage, are looking pretty silly because of circumstances of it’s own making.

If there are, in fact, simple and reasonable answers for what appears to be an exorbitant price for a parcel of land, they will be accepted and all will be well.  But the mystery, spun by the Board’s own (in)actions, is causing public dismay and suspicion.

The next school board meeting will be on Tuesday, June 26th at 7:30 PM

100 Tarrar Springs Road | Lexington, SC 29072 | Phone 803-821-1000

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