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Land deal miscues damage credibility
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Forsyth County News
One of the quickest ways for a  governmental body to lose the trust of those it serves is to allow the suggestion that everything isn’t above board with the acquisition of land. The purchase of the Fowler property in the county’s not-so-distant past quickly comes to mind.

Questions over the propriety of land acquisitions have dogged politicians at every level forever, frequently with good reason. For that reason, those elected to public office have to do everything within their power to make sure expenditures of tax dollars for public land are transparent and above board.

With that in mind, the Forsyth County government’s processes and procedures in the recent acquisition of two pieces of property haven’t been exactly confidence inspiring.

Earlier this year it was revealed that the county purchased a 63-acre site in South Forsyth for greenspace without ever being aware that there were two families living on the property. A quickly drawn lease agreement allowed the county to avoid the chore of evicting from the property people it didn’t even know lived there.

Then this month, as they prepared to close on another purchase under the park and greenspace bond program, county officials learned that the acreage they agreed to buy in March was actually about 10 percent bigger than they thought. Not an extra hundred square feet or so, but 23 acres more than was covered by the county’s original $5.5 million contract.

With the bond money available, the county agreed to add another $100,000 to the original purchase price and buy the additional land as well.

Certainly neither of these instances reflect any sort of intentional impropriety on the part of county officials. Both seem to be the result of a casual carelessness in the land acquisition process, fostered perhaps by the giddiness of having pre-approved funds available to spend.

That said, county leaders continue to look for ways to spend money under the park and greenspace bond, including a continued interest by some in purchasing a golf course off Buford Dam Road.

As those acquisitions move forward, it would be nice for the public to have confidence in the process without having to worry about any last minute surprises popping up.

There are a lot of ways governments get in trouble in land deals — personal involvement of elected officials with those profiting from the transaction; questionable appraisals of value; exertion of influence by office holders. We’d rather not have to write about any of them in the weeks to come.