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Pages missing in $1.5m contract

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The Ellis County Press

MIDLOTHIAN - Councilman Ken Chambers is acting more like a police detective with his latest investigation, one that has exposed a controversial real estate transaction for the old First Baptist Church of Midlothian facility, which now houses the city’s police department and courtrooms.

"What started as citizens’ concerns regarding recent city discussions, such as the build-ing’s roof and air conditioner units, took on a confusing twist unrelated to the original inquiry," said Chambers, elected two years ago after defeating an incumbent while the city debated a smoking ban ordinance, a measure he strongly opposed.

"I was told it was very difficult retrieving the correct contract regarding this transaction."

"This matter really does date back to a different staff, so my knowledge is pretty limited," said Don Hastings, City Manager.

Chambers’ original editorial with his investigation’s findings appeared in The Ellis County Press when other media outlets refused to print it.

The deal to utilize the FBC building instead of issuing more debt to pay for a new facility was seen by many officials as fiscally conservative and prudent, but Chambers, who later sued his council colleagues and the City of Midlothian for an ethics investigation this year that found no fault on his part, kept unraveling the mystery surrounding the FBC purchase.

"At question is whether the city’s representative had a conflict of interest with their broker and if that could have raised the final sales price to the detriment of the Midlothian taxpayer," said Chambers, himself a former police officer and currently an adjuster with American International Group, or AIG.

Ellis County Tax/Assessor John Bridges’ office told Chambers there was no record of the value of the property that FBC stood on due to the church’s non-profit exemption. FBC-Midlothian was in the process of building a new facility in the central part of town off of the new Highway 287 bypass.

"However, other exempted churches on the [tax office’s] Web site detail a value for the improvements [buildings]," said Chambers.

"Why is this one different?

"The land value of this property in 2008 is $82,000.  

"This is currently the only information provided on the value of the property, leaving us to believe the city perceived the value of the buildings at over $1.5 million."

Mayor Boyce Whatley, who led the ethics investigation into Chambers last year, when contacted four months ago to comment on Chambers’ findings, have refused comment.

"It’s unusual to have pages missing from an important legal document, but what made me question the value of the property was how this story kept unfolding like a dime novel," Chambers said.

Former Midlothian Police Chief Steve Campbell, who is now a reserve officer commissioned in Ovilla, initialed the contract for the city as the city’s representative, according to legal documents obtained in an open records request.

Chambers said Campbell was the person responsible for representing the taxpayers.

"It was his job to acquire the property at the best price for the citizens of Midlothian."

Representing Midlothian, Campbell used William Foshea as the broker and Realtor.

"I don’t know what that councilman is up to but I really rather not comment and refer you to the city", said Foshea.

Foshea received $36,000 in commission, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development paperwork that was attached to the city’s contract.

The Texas Real Estate Commission verified, according to Chambers, that Campbell had a real estate salesperson license and was being sponsored by Foshea, himself a licensed real estate broker during the course of the real estate transaction to buy FBC’s old facility to be used as the new police/courts building.

The TREC Web site currently shows the same address for both Campbell and Foshea, who lives on Joe Wilson Road between Ovilla and Midlothian’s city limits.

The City of Midlothian verified the buyer’s initials on the bottom of the contract as those of William S. Campbell, the legal name for the former chief, who was fired for unrelated reasons to this investigation.

"Here’s where I question the arrangement," Chambers said. "Campbell represented the city in the transaction, and his job was to get the lowest price possible.  However, his broker was also his sponsor [boss].  The higher the price, the more the broker would make.  All the broker would have to do is talk the buyer [Campbell] into paying more, and the broker would make more commission!

"While the two parties would normally ‘haggle’ over how much to offer the church, they had a business arrangement where the buyer worked for the broker.  The potential for a conflict of interest is clear, and, if that arrangement affected the price, it would be the taxpayers who would lose."

So far, no city investigation or district attorney’s investigation has been opened in regards to the Chambers investigation, and Campbell’s home went up for sale shortly after he left the chief’s position two years ago. Campbell could not be reached for comment.

Since becoming the Place 3 councilman two years ago, Chambers has been on the receiving end of many 6-1 votes. The retired cop stresses his belief in fighting for individual property rights and Constitutional protections.

He was the only councilman to have opposed the city’s recent annexation of nearly 1,300 residents in November.

That three-year battle to stave off Midlothian’s annexation produced one upside: on May 9, Chambers welcomed an ally in Dr. Hank Miller, who defeated Councilman Wayne Sibley for the Place 5 seat by only a handful of votes.

"Even if everything was perfectly legitimate, wouldn’t it behoove Mayor Whatley to avoid the appearance of potential conflicts of interest like this?" Chambers asked, who noted Foshea and Campbell have not returned his calls on this matter either.

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