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Missouri Baptist Building Sale Critic Raises Liability Concerns

The Missouri Baptist Convention will reportedly be asked to amend a $2.75 million contract of sale for its office building to ensure that county taxpayers will not have to pay for any removal of asbestos or to get out of a 20-year lease with a convention agency that is being sued by the MBC.

The purchase, which still must be approved by voters, would help clear the way for construction of a new jail and justice center in Jefferson City.

Clyde Angle, a former city councilman, said last Wednesday that Cole County’s presiding commissioner told him he would ask the convention to amend the contract to clarify those issues. Whether the convention will consent to do so, Angle told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail, “remains to be seen.”

Angle said commissioners were less open to another suggestion he communicated to them last week in a letter–exploring alternative locations to the 400 block of East High Street in Jefferson City. Angle claims a cheaper site could save taxpayers $5 million to $7 million by the time the Baptist Building and neighboring properties are purchased and demolished.

Angle has been a vocal critic of the Aug. 24 contract, which he claims the county commission approved in a secret meeting that violated Missouri’s Sunshine Law. Each meeting Angle has with the Cole County Commission, he says, “the public learns a little more.”

Angle said the contract, apparently signed by commissioners without legal counsel, is ambiguous on two potential financial risks.

One is which party would be responsible for additional costs should the building, formerly a hotel, be found to contain asbestos when it is torn down. Angle said contracts for purchase of older buildings usually require the seller to affirm there is no asbestos or allow inspection. Lacking that, he said, the commission’s only assurance is an opinion by architects that asbestos “is not a problem.”

The other is who will bear the costs if it becomes necessary to use eminent domain to evict the Missouri Baptist Foundation, which has a 20-year lease with the state convention. The foundation is one of five Missouri Baptist agencies named in a lawsuit seeking to overturn trustee votes to make their boards self-perpetuating, rather than automatically accepting members nominated by the convention. Angle said it appears the litigation may extend into 2006 or beyond.

Angle said he wants it to be made clear that the convention, and not taxpayers, bear the brunt of any such costs.

Angle also asked commissioners to appoint a citizen’s committee to review possible alternate sites. According to a newspaper report, commissioners defended the currently proposed site by citing special needs for building a jail.

The contract for purchase of the Baptist Building is contingent on voters approving a half-cent sales tax in February to finance the $36 million jail and justice center.

The county recently launched a campaign to win support for the project, with 10 billboards scheduled to be in place by Christmas, according to a report in the Jefferson City News-Tribune.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Related stories:
Critic Alleges Conspiracy to Hide Details of Missouri Baptist Building Sale
State Convention Exec Fires Managing Editor
Lawyer Says Missouri Baptist Building Sale Deal Broke Sunshine Law