Photo: Portion of Kentucky Lake in Big Sandy, Tennessee
Photo Credit: Kentucky Lake American Bulldogs / Facebook
Published July 29, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
Several irregularities in the documentation of a Public Land Sale in Benton County, Tennessee have raised questions among resident Government watchdogs.
In the August 1, 2019, edition of the Camden Chronicle, Benton County placed an ad detailing a “County Property Public Sale.” The notice of sale also appeared on Facebook. The properties listed were in the Big Sandy and Sugar Tree areas and were listed with very attractive low opening bids.
According to Benton County Mayor, Brett Lashlee, the 250+ properties listed in the sale were owned by the County and had been sitting delinquent for years, in some cases over a decade, not generating any revenue from property taxes.
In an interview with the Tennessee Conservative, Lashlee said, “Getting the properties into the hands of taxpayers was the main goal. The money made from the sales were a secondary goal.”
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One of the questions raised by the Benton County Government watchdogs was “how did the Mayor end up with multiple properties” (some sold to him under the published starting bids)?
Lashlee explained that the properties he bid on and won were those that were not sold at auction for any price. He explained that the properties he bought were only purchased by him some two months after the initial auction.
“The general buying public not only had one chance to buy these, but actually three chances! The initial tax sale by the clerk and master, the initial bid-offer sale, and then the counter-offer sale. I bought the properties that didn’t sell because I wanted all the properties on the books,” Lashlee said.
Lashlee went on to explain that the requirement for an interested party to bid a minimum of $425.00 plus 10% to be eligible to enter a bid on the parcels applied only during the initial auction period.
Following, Lashlee stated that the County was willing to “take whatever they could get” simply to get the properties in a position to start generating tax revenue.
“The properties I acquired no one even offered a bid on in either sale and I was the only one who tendered an offer in the second sale. I even tendered a higher offer than our baseline set price just so to avoid anyone crying “foul” that I low-balled the property,” Lashlee said.
Another question the watchdogs raised was regarding the documents that show that Lashlee received several parcels of land for free, transferred from another purchaser, Misty Dawn Nesbitt.
“Rather than bid on properties myself in a public auction, which although legal would be cumbersome and odd to try and do as I was also the auctioneer, I approached a local buyer who had purchased the lots I was interested in. She had bought a large number of parcels and was open to my purchasing the parcels from her. She agreed and the warranty deed transfers were above board, legal, and customary as anyone who has bought, sold, or traded properties has customary language in a deed. Mine were no different and they do not amount to anything more than a camper sized lots in an area that a road doesn’t even go to! One has to hike to actually get to them.” Lashlee said.
According to Lashlee, he and Nesbitt also did some “trading” of the properties they acquired, all of which was documented as described above. Similar trades took place between Paul G. Summers, chairman of the Benton County Audit Committee, and Nesbitt.
“He (Summers) wanted the ones (parcels) that were on his road,” Lashlee said.
The watchdogs also pointed out that on September 13, 2019, Mayor Brett Lashlee issued a deed to himself for a parcel of land and raised the question, “Can the Mayor purchase land from the County that he is in charge of selling?”
Lashlee stated that at any county sale of property, he always signs all the deeds.
He went on to say, “As long as it’s a legal process why can’t I buy from the county?”
The sale of two other parcels raised alarms, both of which were purchased on September 13, 2019 by Joleen Costa (Lashlee’s wife) and Mayor Lashlee.
The watchdogs report that there was no evidence the parcels received an initial bid.
These parcels indeed had no initial bids due to lack of interest, according to Lashlee, and he purchased them outright to get them “back to the books.”
Lashlee stated that, “I understand how the concerned parties feel. The documentation alone does not tell the whole story. I am always available. People should talk to me. I even converse with people on Facebook.”
The Tennessee Conservative has also reached for comment from Whitworth Law Firm (who processed the deeds associated with the sales), Paul G. Summers and Sheri Hill, Real Estate Agent. None have replied at the time of publication.
The Tennessee Conservative will keep you updated as new information surfaces.
About the Author:
Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative
Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com