City’s land lease temporarily halted

January 18, 2011 • Local News

Roswell’s mayor is standing by his and other city officials’ decision to temporarily reject bid proposals for leasing city land to outside sources, following an eleventh hour plea from a Chaves County commissioner to toss the bids and reconsider the agenda item.

The vote took place during the council’s Jan. 13 regular monthly meeting. Mayor Del Jurney said Monday that he and the city councilors who voted to reject the bids acted appropriately, despite concerns from other officials who called the last-minute decision unfair to the other bidders.

“I think it’s our responsibility to maximize our opportunities, especially with our real estate assets,” said Jurney, four days after his tiebreaking vote on the Kerr Ranch lease. The city retains the roughly 3,500 acres of land for its water rights, but leases it to outside sources who typically [auth] use the property for grazing cattle.

The council voted 4-4 on Thursday to reject the bids after the land’s current occupant, Commissioner Kim Chesser, told councilors that his use of the land goes beyond using it simply for grazing purposes. City staff recommended that the bid be awarded to someone other than the county official, who offered about $1,500 less for the property than the highest bidder.

According to state procurement code, of ficials are required to accept the lowest bid for services and the highest bid when dealing with selling city services. Chesser, who operates a guest house on his ranch that offers outsiders from around the globe a glimpse inside the life of ranchers, explained to councilors that his business — the Burnt Well Guest Ranch — brings worldwide attention to Roswell. He argued that the bidding process didn’t take other benefits to leasing the property into account.

“I did not receive the bid,” said Chesser, during the meeting. “But, what I wanted to tell you … is I would love for you all to consider that there’s more of an advantage to me having the property than someone just grazing cattle.” Visitors to the Burnt Well Guest Ranch are taken onto city property to drive cattle. The nearly hour -long discussion regarding the bid during the council meeting raised concern from some city officials, who said they didn’t agree with changing paths so late in the process.

“I do not think it is fair to other citizens to go through a bid process and then after the process has taken its course … to change ball games,” said Councilor Jason Perry on Monday, chairman of the Building and Lands Committee. “It was too late,” he said.

“At the end, you just can’t change.” Perry, along with Councilors Barry Foster, Steve Henderson and Art Sandoval voted against rejecting the bids. Councilors Dusty Huckabee, Bob Maples, Judy Stubbs and Elena Velasquez voted in favor of the action. Councilor Jimmy Craig abstained from the vote because his law practice works with the county and Chesser is on the commission.

The bid was prepared to be awarded to Steve Oldfield, the highest bidder. “I’m upset about the deal,” Oldfield said. “It just seems odd that he did not get the bid, (but) he was able to change it within a weeks time. I don’t know.” The mayor and council indicated during the meeting that city staff would likely rebid the Kerr Ranch lease as a request for proposal, which would allow other factors to be taken into consideration to determine a bidder’s overall value.

“Really, what we’re learning is that in a lot of dif ferent areas, the low bid — or, the high bid in this case — is not always the best opportunity,” Jurney said. The mayor added that he doesn’t think that the last-minute decision to reject the bids was unfair.

“Nothing is final until the council votes,” he said. “Even if you change it on the eleventh hour, is it ever the wrong time to do the right thing? I don’t think (so).”

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