Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad acknowledged Thursday that the former BISCO warehouse owner recently told him he felt mistreated by the city manager during a June telephone conversation.
Mitchell Barnes, who sold the BISCO building to the city for $1.2 million through an Aug. 10 auction, recently said he had hoped to sell the building to the city for $1 million without involving an auctioneer.
However, he said city officials called him in June and offered him $500,000 while “snickering.” Barnes said he told Hunstad during a recent meeting to close the BISCO deal that if he had been treated respectfully, the taxpayers could have saved nearly $250,000.
During a telephone interview Thursday, the mayor said he did indeed have a conversation with Barnes along those lines.
“Mr. Barnes did say he talked to (City Manager) Ron Scott about selling the BISCO building (before Barnes hired an auctioneer in June),” Hunstad said.
The mayor said it was his understanding Scott, and possibly another key city employee, did speak to Barnes about purchasing the BISCO building.
“(Barnes) said if that conversation had been handled better, the cost of the building would have been cheaper to the city,” Hunstad said.
The mayor said he does not recall if Barnes said the conversation cost the taxpayers nearly $250,000 or the date it occurred.
In a letter to The Advocate-Messenger delivered after the telephone interview, Scott denies he ever talked to Barnes about purchasing the building.
Hunstad said he did not and still does not take Barnes’ claims seriously.
Barnes alleges that his former business associate, Mike Montgomery, who is City Commissioner Ryan Montgomery’s father, has asked for a significant “finder’s fee” from the sale of the building.
Hunstad is concerned about the impact Barnes’ allegations will have on his political ally and friend Ryan Montgomery’s bid for re-election as city commissioner.
“Ryan is a very honest person,” Hunstad said. “Look at the way he has performed over the past two years.”
The mayor said the growing controversy over the BISCO building does not change his “strong support” for Ryan Montgomery’s candidacy.
Hunstad acknowledged he is so concerned about the potential ramifications of Barnes’ claims that he approached a local radio station about purchasing 30 minutes of uninterrupted air time.
“It was my idea, and I wanted Ryan and I to have a chance to hold a question-and-answer session so we could really explain the situation to the public,” Hunstad said.
However, the mayor was unable to secure a deal to purchase air time.
“I believe Mr. Barnes’ claims are without substance and that obviously he has some issues with Mike Montgomery, which he (also) tried to talk to me about when he was in Danville,” the mayor said.
“But I don’t believe Mike did anything wrong, and Ryan certainly did not have any conflicts of interest.”