State licensing authorities have placed on probation Taylorsville Mayor LaVelle Prince's real estate appraisal license on grounds he violated professional laws and did not disclose a potential conflict of interest.
The action comes nearly five years after the state Division of Real Estate began an investigation of Prince's February 1991 appraisal of a 29-acre parcel in West Jordan.In their conclusion, investigators said Prince did not properly value land appraised for JVM Partners. Further, the report says Prince did not disclose he had assisted JVM Partners in hearings and negotiations with zoning officials and that he had bid to act as a development manager for a subdivision proposed within the property.
"It's ridiculous," Prince said Thursday of the division action, which puts his license on probation for three years. "There really wasn't anything to it. It all got all out of whack."
Prince's appraisal valued the undeveloped property at 8300 South and 1300 West between $17,000 and $18,000 per acre. At the time, the property was zoned for residential, 8,000-square-foot lots.
Prince based his appraised value on five comparable property sales that were not comparable because of size, amenities, development potential or costs for development, according to the state.
Although division documents show Prince admitted to facts of the allegations, he said Thursday some details are not correct. He never bid to be a developer for the project, he said, but did work as a consultant for JVM Partners.
"I did agree to the probationary period," said Prince, elected from a pool of 10 mayoral candidates last November.
But with all he has going on getting the city ready to become official July 1, Prince said he didn't have time to fight the state.
Because he is a full-time mayor in the city of 55,000, Prince isn't doing appraising right now anyway, he said. "I don't have time to challenge it."
He thought the matter had been resolved long ago, but was contacted by the division again in February 1996. At that time, he didn't tell Taylorsville City Council members about the charges. "I didn't think it was any of their business."Taylorsville City Council members said Thursday they were surprised by the action, and most said they wish Prince would have let them know about the investigation.
"It would've been a nice courtesy," Councilwoman Janice Auger said.
"Is he required to do so? No. Would it have been a good idea? Probably," Councilman Jim Dunnigan said.
In the stipulation agreement worked out with the division, Prince is represented by attorney John Brems, who has been hired by the city of Taylorsville to do legal work on a contract basis. The City Council recently renewed Brems' contract.
Hiring Brems as his attorney for a private matter also creates a "muddy" situation, Auger said.
Dunnigan agrees, although he said he's worked with Brems on city ordinance issues and respects his work and perspective. "If I had a problem, I'd probably think of him. However, it might have been a better idea to use someone else."
And because the city has just started talking about hiring a staff attorney, Prince should have told the council about his outside arrangement with Brems, Dunnigan said.
Brems and Prince on Thursday both assured the matter is being handled independently of city business. "The city's not paying for this," Brems said.
Mostly, Prince said he's irritated that the case dragged out so long and appeared out of nowhere this winter.
Shelley K. Wismer, staff legal counsel for the Commerce Department, was not sure why the case had not been investigated between 1991 and 1995. She said the investigation was re-initiated in January when she asked the Attorney General's Office, in a routine meeting, about the status of its investigation into the case.
"I can't tell you what was responsible for the delay. . . . It was not intentional," she said.
Councilman Keith Sorensen said he believes Prince will get the situation worked out. "LaVelle's entitled to the benefit of time and due process," he said.
All council members said they want to know more about the investigation and how it could affect the city.
"I'm sure this problem is a matter that has no bearing on the operations of the city," Councilman Bruce Wasden said. "I want to assure the community of careful scrutiny of all the city's business by the City Council."
"Our role is to be the watchdog of the funds," Auger said. "And in this case, the watchdog of the reputation."