Tyler leaders respond to questions over animal shelter land deal

Questions arose this week about the real estate deal behind the city's new animal shelter following a city council meeting Wednesday that saw the council vote to purchase a building and ten acres along Chandler Highway.

In turn, the city abandoned a plan to build next to the SPCA in south Tyler.

"It was built as a church," the SPCA's Deborah Dobbs said at the meeting. "So the infrastructure and the needs for animal sheltering are not there."

Dobbs was fighting to keep the city's proposed building on her organization's land.

On Friday, Assistant City Manager Susan Guthrie agreed the building needs work. But she said it's a cheaper option in the end, and leaves more room for growth than the SPCA's property in South Tyler.

During the same meeting, City Councilman Mark Whatley left the room. He did not vote on the issue because he is also a broker for Burns Commercial Real Estate and represents the property the city wants to buy.

"We looked at our city ordinance as well as the state law," Tyler City Attorney Deborah Pullum said.

Pullum said there's a fine line in cases like this. But she said no laws were broken.

"State law allows a governmental body to vote on a piece of property that a city officer may have some interest in as long as they comply with requirements," Pullum said.

In an affidavit obtained by CBS 19, Whatley admits, as required under the law, that he could receive a commission on the sale.

In an interview, he said he wants people to know the sale wasn't his idea.

"This particular property was a church prior and it just really never occurred to us that we could use this for an animal shelter for the city," Whatley said. "So, again, I didn't initiate the process with the city. The city came to me."

Whatley represents Regions Bank in the sale. He has no direct financial deal with the city.

Guthrie said the SPCA's land has been inaccurately portrayed as a free option, thereby making the city's plan seem like a waste of money. She said using the SPCA's land would require the city to donate a $375,000 building, spend $400,000 on infrastructure and then turn around and build a new building.

The re-model cost of the existing building on Chandler Highway is still up in the air. There is an "out" in the $550,000 sale contract if that price gets too high.


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