Bells issue response to Commission letter

Published 7:30 am Thursday, December 6, 2012

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

Karl and Helenor Bell are threatening a counter suit of their own regarding a returned check for $500,000 to the Lowndes County Commission in connection with the purchase of the Hayneville Plaza.

The Bells are also no longer willing to loan money to the commission.

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“My clients are tired of playing games over something that is trying to be made political by certain members of the Lowndes County Commission,” attorney Michael G. Strickland wrote in a letter to Commission Chairman Robert Harris, received by The Lowndes Signal, and dated Dec. 3.

The letter was copied, as well, to County Attorney Hank Sanders, Sheriff John Williams and District Attorney Charlotte Tesmer.

Strickland stated in the letter that he represents Karl and Helenor Bell and Hayneville Plaza LLC in this matter.

“This will be our final notice and request for the Lowndes County Commission to return the check written by Hayneville Plaza LLC to my office within ten (10) days of the date of this letter along with the requested minutes, print a public apology and retraction in The Lowndes Signal and cease and desist from all other actions arising out of the check and failed loan,” Strickland wrote.

“If this matter is not resolved in ten (10) days per my request, I have been instructed to file suit to resolve this matter and clear my clients’ names,” Strickland continued.

The commission voted unanimously on Monday, Nov. 26 to send a letter requesting the Bells make good a returned check for $500,000 or face legal action.

The checked referred to was dated July 12, 2011 on a Hayneville Plaza LLC, First Citizens Bank account, made to the Lowndes County Commission for $500,000, marked “loan to pay bond,” and signed by Karl Bell. It was returned stamped “insufficient.”

At the time, Karl Bell was owner of the Hayneville Plaza, which was purchased by the county for use by the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission in connection with the broadband project for eight central Alabama counties.

“I would like to motion that on the returned check on Bell, the situation, that we get the attorney [Sanders] to draft a letter to be submitted to them giving them 14 days to reply. If not take legal action,” Commissioner Brenson Crenshaw said.

Harris restated the motion, seconded by Commissioner Carnell McAlpine as, “We go on record asking the attorney to send a letter to the Bells for the check to be made good on within 14 days.”

Commissioner W. Dickson Farrior said when questioned after the meeting that if the check is not made good, “We’re going to file a civil lawsuit.”

In June 2011, the commission voted three to two over the objection of commissioners Farrior and Joseph Barganier to float a $3.5 million bond to purchase the Hayneville Plaza Building, which was appraised at $3.2 million.

The official bond statement was approved subject to two agreements being executed, Sanders said at the time.

Sanders said one was a real estate lease agreement between Lowndes County and the Broadband Cooperative District that would provide for rent of the building to go toward payment of the bond. The other was an agreement between South Central Alabama Broadband Cooperative District, Karl Bell, owner of the building, and Lowndes County that $500,000 of the bond proceeds would be set aside to pay that.

In January of this year, the Lowndes County Commission voted three to two over the objection of Farrior and Barganier to approve a compromise to return a $500,000 check to Karl Bell and reportedly borrow $250,000 in connection with interest on bonds floated by the county to purchase the Hayneville Plaza.

The commission later voted to reconsider that compromise.

Strickland issued a press release to The Lowndes Signal on behalf of the Bells on Wednesday, Dec. 5.

“On Dec. 3, 2012 I received a letter from Hank Sanders, the attorney for the Lowndes County Commission,” Strickland wrote. “My clients and I were very disappointed to learn that the commission refuses to abide by the laws of the state of Alabama.”

In the press release, Strickland quotes Sanders advising that the Bells have 14 days to make the $500,000 check good and, “If this matter is not fully resolved in fourteen (14) days, I am authorized and directed to take all necessary legal action.”

In the press release Strickland wrote, “First, ‘the Bells’ have not and are not part of this matter. At all times, Hayneville Plaza LLC was approached by the Lowndes County Commission to borrow money.”

More, “Hayneville Plaza LLC would act as a bank to lend money to the commission if they could reach an agreement on the terms of the loan specifically relating to the terms of the commission’s repayment of the loan back to The Plaza.”

The press release states, “The people of Lowndes County must know the truth” and cites Alabama Code 1975 S 8-9-2 that a loan or commitment to make a loan of $250,000 or more must be in writing.

“The commission approached Hayneville Plaza about borrowing $500,000. Hayneville Plaza wrote a check on Hayneville Plaza’s checking account payable to the commission as a show of good faith while the parties negotiated the terms of the loan. The commission agreed to hold the check and not deposit it,” the press release states.

According to the release, the commission later voted to return the check in the amount of $500,000, the original check was written to the commission was in error because it should have been made to U.S. Bank, and the commission later voted to borrow $250,000 from Hayneville Plaza.

The press release further states the commission hired attorney Wyatt Haskell to negotiate and draft the loan document as its attorney.

“Wyatt Haskell negotiated and drafted loan documents which were signed by Karl Bell as president for The Hayneville Plaza LLC,” the press release states. “The Commission refused to sign the loan documents which were drafted by their very own attorney. The Commission wanted to make further changes to the already signed documents. Wyatt Haskell attempted to negotiate the terms of the loan; however, the negotiations ended and the commission would not sign the loan documents written by their attorney.”

The press release continues, “There was no agreement reached but still the commission did not return the original check. Months later in an attempt to force Hayneville Plaza into agreeing to loan the commission money pursuant to new prejudicial terms, the commission deposited the old $500,000.00 check written by Hayneville Plaza.”

According to the press release, “The Commission has committed other acts for which the commission, various commissioners, employees of the commission and potentially bank employees may be held liable in a lawsuit.”

The press release from Strickland goes on to state, “Karl Bell, as president for the Hayneville Plaza, has requested the return of the original check before and after it was presented to the bank for payment. As the attorney for Hayneville Plaza and the Bells, I have requested the check to also be returned along with copies of the commission meetings minutes but all requests have been denied.  It appears that the County Commission wants to operate under its own set of laws and rules instead of those of the State of Alabama.  It almost appears as if the commission wants the citizens of Lowndes County to believe that the Hayneville Plaza was to gift the Commission the $500,000 without being obligated to repay it.

“Throughout this loan process, Hayneville Plaza, LLC has always been willing to loan money to the Lowndes County Commission and even signed the loan documents drafted by the commission’s attorney. However, due to the actions of certain commissioners and others, it appears that the commission would have no intention of repaying the loan and thus, Hayneville Plaza LLC will not make any loan to the commission.”