Appearances can be deceiving. After publishing the first article in this series several people reached out to me about issues they saw in the community that look “shady.” One of the shadiest looking examples was the city’s recent purchase of the old Tribune Star building Garmong Construction. The beacon public access website shows that Garmong bought the property from Newspaper Holdings inc. for $692,200 on June 23rd, 2020, and then sold the property to City Redevelopment for $5.4 million just eight months later. I emailed City Redevelopment for an explanation of the discrepancy and was told to contact the Mayor because he was the point person in negotiating the transaction. At this point my corruption detector is off the charts.
I reached out to the Mayor and he explained that the Tribune Star purchased the property in 1991 and entered into an agreement with Garmong Construction for them to build their new building and they would lease it from them, so Garmong owned the building and the Tribune owned the ground. When Garmong purchased the property from Newspaper Holdings in 2020 they were only paying for the ground and not the building. That explains why the price was lower, but the property was assessed for $2.4 million in January 2021, so again why did the city purchase it for $5.4 million. The Mayor’s answer was that the property was way under assessed, and that the $5.4 million accurately represented the value of the property.
Is this story true? I don’t know, but it’s plausible. Even if it’s true it means that Garmong Construction has been the Tribune Star’s landlord for the past twenty years, and their property has been under assessed by $3 million dollars. That’s not all that looked bad when it came to Garmong Construction, it also looked bad when one of our new county commissioners, just a few months into office, decided to take a selfie with a Garmong Construction hard hat. It might be reasonable then for someone in the community to assume that Garmong got a big recent job at the County Annex without a bid because of Mr Switzer’s influence. You could also assume that Chris got a large interior demolition contract for the new police station from Garmong despite not appearing to have demolition experience, but when I questioned him about these appearances he had the “receipts.”
An invoice showing he was contracted by the Tribune Star and not Garmong, and testimony from a reliable source that it was not Switzer’s suggestion to use Garmong on the Annex. I admit, Chris is the type of local leader I would love to find dirt on. I was strongly opposed to president Trump’s administration and Chris was elected on a wave of straight ticket Republican votes, due in large part to Trump’s most devoted followers, and Chris helped organize a Trump Train parade with Mr. “Nuke China” himself, Brad Newman. Chris is young, already in a top local position, and he takes a lot of selfies, but as I spoke with him in his office I couldn’t help being overcome by his enthusiasm for the community. So again, is it true that he’s squeaky clean when it comes to Garmong Construction, I don’t know, but it’s plausible.
I have other stories of corruption that I’m working on but I wanted to share this article now because I want people to know that although there are a lot of things that appear unethical in our city, some may be legitimately innocent, and it’s not my desire to paint all of our political leaders in a negative light. My conversation with Chris Switzer for example was refreshing. Although I still think the selfie with the Garmong Construction hard hat was a bad idea, I was pleasantly surprised to hear him say that, unlike his predecessor, he would not participate in a golf outing to raise funds for his future campaigns and that he would not accept donations from executives in firms working on large local projects.
Switzer’s response was refreshing because it was in such a stark contrast to the Mayor’s reply when I questioned him about his campaign finances. When asked whether he would reconsider accepting money from executives in large firms currently bidding on large local projects he responded that it costs a lot to run for Mayor and he will continue to accept money from anyone until it is proven that they’re corrupt. Not exactly the type of response you’d like to hear from a man whose entire political career has been clouded by controversy. From the Office of Special Counsel ruling that his first candidacy was a Hatch Act violation, to Powerdyne and Waste Water, right up to the TIF funding for the police station and other pet projects. It is precisely this cloud of suspicion that would lead people to assume there was corruption involved in the purchase price of the new police station, and there still might be, but as of today I haven’t found it.