Emails show that state attorney thought Dorothea Dix lease needed a second vote

ccampbell@newsobserver.comApril 30, 2013 

— The N.C. Attorney General’s staff had “strong misgivings” about parts of Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix property lease and suggested that the agreement might need a second vote from the Council of State, according to email records released Tuesday.

The emails bolster claims from supporters of a bill that would scrap the lease. They say the deal made during Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s final month in office was “illegitimate.” The Republican-sponsored bill passed the state Senate in March, and it has been awaiting a hearing from the House judiciary committee for the past month.

“It was kind of an end-run to the process,” said Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Republican from Union County who co-sponsored the bill. “This is the point of the city taking property from state government – a power grab without question.”

Just nine days before Perdue and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane signed the lease in December, attorneys for both parties had two drafts of the 30-page agreement. “Version A” was the state’s suggested draft; “Version B” was the city’s proposal. Each document had several revisions from the negotiations.

The drafts were produced less than a week after the Council of State voted 6-2 to lease the 325 acres, where Raleigh wants to build a destination park. Some state officials were given a single morning to review the draft before it was sent to Raleigh’s attorneys, emails show.

Killing Version A

With the clock ticking on the Perdue administration, Secretary of Administration Moses Carey told state attorneys Dec. 19 to kill Version A in favor of the city’s language.

“In the interest of time, I am asking that you transmit Version B as soon as possible to the city for review and work with their attorney or other representatives as appropriate,” Carey wrote in an email.

But one section of the lease terms in Version B prompted “very strong misgivings,” wrote Don Teeter, special deputy attorney general to Roy Cooper, a Democrat. Teeter encouraged Carey and others to delete a provision Raleigh wanted that governs loans for planned park facilities. Under the lease, Raleigh doesn’t need the state’s permission to take out a mortgage or other loan for construction on the Dix property.

That section of the lease, Teeter wrote, goes beyond the terms that the Council of State approved. Sending the language back to the council for another vote, he told Carey, “is at least wise and probably required.”

“If this lease were to be ajudged to exceed the scope of Council of State approval, the continued validity of the lease is very much more in question,” he added.

‘One lawyer being cautious’

State Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat who’s strongly opposed to scrapping the lease, said the agreement remains a valid contract and the state needs to keep its end of the deal. “The way I read it was just one lawyer being cautious,” Stein said Tuesday. “The attorney general voted for the lease. If he thought it were illegal or in need of some major reform, I don’t think he would have supported it.”

But Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican who co-sponsored the bill to scrap the lease, said the email highlights another reason for his legislation. Hise and others have argued that the lease terms are too cheap and don’t provide funds to mental health in keeping with the land’s original purpose.

“The correspondence between the state’s attorneys and Gov. Perdue’s administration further supports the Senate’s concern that the Dorothea Dix lease is unlawful,” Hise said Tuesday.

CITY TO SURVEY DIX BOUNDARIES

While the fate of the Dorothea Dix lease remains unclear, Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen is ordering a $40,000 boundary survey for the property.

Allen said it’s important to establish where the property lines are for the leased tract.

“Nobody has a boundary survey; all they have is an estimate of what the boundaries are and what the acreage is,” he said. “That’s one of the baseline tasks that needs to be done with our lease.”

Even if the bill to revoke Raleigh’s lease passes, Allen pointed out that legislators agree that a park should be part of the plan.

“We feel like a boundary survey is going to be critical no matter what happens,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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