Thursday, May 5, 2011

Jury Awards Over 1 Million Dollars to Eminent Domain Victim in Lumberton Texas - City Attorney Fired!

Jury Rules Against the City of Lumberton, TX and Awards Million Dollar Judgment in Eminent Domain Land Grab

What is just as bad is that the City of Lumberton has kept all of this secret and the city has not told the residents of Lumberton anything. They have hidden using eminent domain, and also they have hidden this million dollar judgment against the city. The first that the people of Lumberton will hear of this is when this article gets posted online and sent to the media.

Plus, the City of Lumberton Attorney/Prosecutor Kenneth Furlow, he was the losing attorney in this eminent domain judgment, was just secretly fired on April 25th, 2011 by the Lumberton City Council after I had just recently revealed that this City Attorney had not paid his county property tax since 1998 and owed over $40,000 in unpaid taxes. (click here to see article about city attorney)

Here is the Story according to my sources, Court Documents, City Council Meeting Minutes, and News Articles:

The City of Lumberton wanted some property to build a detention pond to hold water when it rains.

They go to Mr. Hooks and tell him that they want 115 acres of his land

Mr. Hooks doesn't want to sell and he does not agree to sell the land.

The City of Lumberton has a condemnation proceeding (eminent domain proceeding) to take the land.

The city charter of Lumberton allows the city to use eminent domain (click here to see city charter eminent domain info) 

The City of Lumberton took the land on Jan 14th, 2010 and started building the pond

When the City of Lumberton took the land they told Mr. Hooks that he was only getting roughly $2,000 per acre for the land (about $200,000). In comparison, the city had just bought over 84 acres of land a couple of years ago to build a park. This park land is right by the property owned by Mr. Hooks and they paid well over $2000 an acre for the park property and yet they only offered just under $2000 per acre for the property they were taking from Mr. Hooks (click here to see article about the land purchased by the City of Lumberton to build a park) In fact, the Lumberton City Council, on Feb 14th, 2011, voted to buy an additional 70 acres of land for the park right by the property owned by Mr. Hooks and they paid well over $2000 per acre for the 70 acres.

So back to the Story, The city only offered just under $2000 per acre for the land they were taking from Mr. Hooks.

Mr. Hooks said no to that price and a commission was appointed to determine a price to give Mr. Hooks. The Commission said that the City of Lumberton should give Mr. Hooks about another $100,000 (about $300,000 total at about $2900 per acre).

Mr. Hooks said no to that price too and he gets a lawyer.

On April 7th, 2011, a Hardin County Jury rendered a judgment against the City of Lumberton. the Jury said that if Lumberton is going to take the land then they are going to pay Mr. Hooks the fair market value of $9,000 per acre (over 1 million dollars!) plus nearly $150,000 in interest and attorney fees. The Judgment against the City of Lumberton is over 1 Million Dollars! (click here to see a copy of the Jury's Final Judgment against the City of Lumberton)

The City had only set aside about $300,000 to pay Mr. Hooks for this property. By subtracting the $299,416 that the city already set aside from the over 1 million dollar judgment, the City of Lumberton has to come up with a cash sum of $886,034.02 to give Mr. Hooks.

the City of Lumberton 2011-2011 budget shows that the city does not have the money to pay the Judgment (click here to see a copy of the City of Lumberton 2010-2011 Budget)

As you can see, the City of Lumberton Budget for the entire year is only about 3 Million Dollars! This means the Eminent Domain Judgment against Lumberton is over 1/3 of the entire year's budget.

The City of Lumberton also does not have a property Tax. Our small city does just fine with just a sales tax because we have lived within the bounds of the small Lumberton Budget and people keep moving here because it is a safe and quiet city. This nearly 1 million dollar judgment against the city is a huge amount of money compared to the entire yearly city budget, and in order to pay for this the city might have to call an election to have a city property tax for the first time ever, or they would have to cut most of the city budget (which most of the city budget is the police department and we wouldn't want to cut that). The city is in the process of building a much needed, multi-million dollar road through the middle of the city to alleviate traffic. Will they have to shut that project down to pay this judgment? (click here to see the article about the new road being built in Lumberton) 

The good old boy system in Hardin County thought they could still do what they want whenever they want. They did not realize that times are changing and people are waking up and fighting back. The City of Lumberton used eminent domain in 2006 to get a section of land from a disabled citizen (Mr Rich in Boykin Subdivision) so that they could build a cut through road from that subdivision to another subdivision that was going to be built. You see, the city never planned for future growth. They took that land with ease even though there was a petition drive against using eminent domain and an uproar from the citizens of Lumberton against taking this man's land because there were other, better places to put a cut through road. The city took land before and they were so confident that they would have no problems taking the land from Mr. Hooks, they already built the detention pond even before they concluded the eminent domain proceeding!

The proceeding was spearheaded by Lumberton's Attorney Kenneth Furlow. I recently uncovered that Kenneth Furlow, a public servant for the City of Lumberton, has not not paying his county property taxes for over a decade and owes over $40,000 At the same time he has owed this money in back taxes, he was getting the Lumberton School District to postpone payments to him for over 4 years, possibly so that his income would not show and so that he could evade having to pay his debts. Only after exposing the City Attorney problems did the City Council of Lumberton finally fire him. And my sources tell me that the Mayor of Lumberton opposed firing the city attorney even after all the City Attorney has done wrong! Why? Because they are old friends in this good old boy political system.

What is even worse is that NO ONE in the city of Lumberton knows about this judgment against Lumberton (ultimately it is a judgment against the people of Lumberton). In fact, no one even knows that the city used eminent domain to take this man's land. The media does not even have any idea. How can a city just hide this kind of thing from its residents? It makes you wonder what else they are hiding from the people who they represent. Texas has an Open Meetings act that requires government agencies to be open about what is going on by way of public meetings and notices. Unfortunately, much of what happens in east Texas government happens illegally behind closed doors in violation of the Open Meetings Act. It is interesting to note that a man has just filed a lawsuit against the Lumberton School District for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. The suit alleges that LISD has not been open about what is happening at meetings by writing up vague meeting agendas and notices and also for making decision behind closed doors before the meetings even begin. I do not have a dog in that fight so I will not speculate as to whether or not the allegations against LISD are true. I will say that it would seem that the City of Lumberton should be the one sued for violating the Open Meetings act! I have the minutes from City Council meetings over the last couple of years and I never read in any of the meetings where the there was mention of a lawsuit against Lumberton. I never even read anywhere in the meeting minutes where they city was using eminent domain. The city might be able to go into executive session to deliberate these issues, but they still have to tell the people what issue they are deliberating and what the final outcome of the closed meeting is! For example, the minutes from the Lumberton City Council's December 13th, 2010 meeting states that the city council went into executive session at 7:30pm and came out of executive session at 8:31pm. That is all it says. It does not say why they went into executive session nor does is list the government code they were using to go into executive session. 

The Lumberton Mayor is no stranger to secrecy. He was fined by the Texas Ethics Commission after his last Mayoral election for not revealing major details in his campaign finance reports like where his campaign money was spent. (click here to see a copy of his campaign ethics violation) Everything is a big secret in good old boy controlled counties of East Texas, but times are changing and these practices are being exposed. It was just last year that the Lumberton Justice of the Peace Butch Cummings was exposed for basically rigging his election by secretly forcing his opponent to drop out of the race. (click here to see the criminal complaint against Butch Cummings) 

But this culture of secrecy is not just a local problem. It took years to get the President of the United States to show the American people a simple birth certificate to prove that he was born in America! 

There is a culture of secrecy in all forms of government.... if our little city was hiding all of this, can you imagine what is being hidden from the people in all the other forms of government