The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 25, 2013

Farmers question land lease, urge bid process

By Jean Cole

— City Council members may have to reconsider a recent decision to renew a farmer’s lease of city land after four other farmers appeared at Monday’s council meeting to say the land lease should have gone to the highest bidder.

During the public comment portion of the council meeting, four farmers approached the council and asked them to reconsider their Sept. 9 decision to renew farmer Britt Christopher’s five-year lease of unused city property. The four men — Gerald Brewer, Caleb Parsons, Jordon Cannon and Jimmy McMeans — said they each have their own land to farm but would like to have the opportunity to make an offer to lease the land.

“We are farmers and we are always looking for land,” McMeans said.

The farmers said the land could be leased for $120 to $125 per acre rather than the $62.50 an acre that Christopher is paying under his five-year lease.

“I think it should go up for bid and the highest bid wins it and gets to work it for five years,” McMeans said.

The council had voted unanimously Sept. 9 to renew Christopher’s five-year lease for $15,000 a year, with the requirement that he use it for agricultural purposes.

City Clerk Annette Barnes said after Monday’s meeting that it has been the city’s procedure to renew a land lease as long as the tenant cares for it properly.

“When I leased five years ago I had an option to renew,” Christopher told The News Courier Tuesday afternoon. “I understand that they wanted an opportunity at it but I have a signed contract by the City Council and the council voted for it.”

Councilman Joseph Cannon, who is a cousin to Jordan Cannon, said during Monday’s meeting that the lease contains a clause that could allow the city to reconsider the lease. He said after the meeting he was not fully aware of how the city went about leasing unused property. When Brewer asked during the meeting if the lease could be bid, Councilman Cannon said, “I believe we can go that route.”

Council President Harold Wales said, “If we are wrong and made a mistake, we will correct it.”

Specifically, the lease states the city has the right to terminate the lease if the property is needed for municipal purposes or if the tenant alters or improves the property without the city’s consent. The lease also gives the city the right to indemnification from claims arising from the tenant’s use of the property and requires the tenant to maintain insurance coverage of the property. But the lease also gives the city … “such other and additional terms as the mayor deems necessary.”

McMeans said farmer Johnny Malone had leased the land before Christopher and had cleaned it up.