‘The people need answers’: Leeds councilman questions city expenses
LEEDS, Ala. (WBRC) - On Monday night, Dec. 5, a Leeds City Councilman posed pointed questions during a packed meeting about how the city spent tens of thousands of tax dollars.
The questions circle back to two real estate transactions.
The first property in question is the building where the council meets on Ninth Street. The property was purchased at an auction in 2019. Eric Turner reminded the council they authorized the mayor to purchase the building, but never discussed hiring an outside attorney.
The settlement sheet obtained by Turner shows Leeds Attorney Lee Barnes was paid $43,450 for a coordination consultant fee, along with $4,000 for closing.
“We have attorneys on staff that we pay good money for, why did we send Lee Barnes to the auction and pay him $43,000 to push a button?” asked Turner. “Why didn’t we just send [the city attorneys], why didn’t the mayor go, why didn’t I go? Why did Lee Barnes get involved? I don’t understand why he keeps popping up on checks.”
Turner noted Barnes was paid $4,000 for closing costs and asked the council and members of the audience whether anyone attended a closing.
“Did you attend mayor?” Turner questioned. “I don’t recall,” responded Mayor David Miller.
“This was an online auction, no one should have been paid $50,000 of your money,” Turner explained to the crowd. “This needs to be investigated very seriously.”
The second issue: selling a portion of the same building to the Leeds Water Works Board, or LWWB, in early 2020. According to city documents, the council authorized the property to be sold for $150,000 or more. The Board agreed to purchase the property for $182,000 to offer another location where patrons can pay their water bills. The sale was contingent upon paying no fees.
A settlement statement shows Barnes was paid $6,382 in closing costs, and one of the city attorneys was paid $25,000 in attorney’s fees. A copy of the check shows the LWWB paid the city $182,000, which was signed and put into an account for Barnes and Barnes Law Firm. Other documents show the law firm cut the city a check for $150,000.
“I’m questioning the check signed for the City of Leeds and why it wasn’t deposited into the City of Leeds Account,” Turner asked. Miller said it wasn’t deposited directly because all the money wasn’t going to the city.
LWWB Chairman Eddie Moore joined the Board after the purchase, but confirmed no one attended a closing and the settlement sheet isn’t signed.
“With further investigation, we found out Barnes & Barnes [law firm] paid the city back $150,000, and we have a deed with the purchase price of $182,000. That raises questions,” Moore explained.
The LWWB asked Turner to find out what happened to the money.
“We simply want answers, it’s public money,” Moore stated. “It’s incumbent on the water board that the public money we spend is appropriated correctly, it’s just that simple.”
After the meeting Miller would not take our questions, only stating, “The truth will come out.”
As for why this is coming out now, Turner says it’s because he finally received the documents, stating he was shocked to see the fees and charges paid.
It’s important to note, the city cannot spend more than $10,000 without the council’s consent.
Turner says he was concerned to see a city attorney was directly paid $25,000 in attorney’s fees.
“That’s $25,000 for a handshake deal, it was literally a handshake deal,” stated Turner. “We are good friends, but for that amount of work - if you charge $200 an hour, that’s 125 hours of work.”
Turner agreed, there’s a chance all of this may be legal, but it’s something he wants the state to look into.
“The people need answers, the council needs answers,” Turner added.
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