County pols quarrel over 'impropriety' in land sale

Delaware County Treasurer Beverly Shields said a prohibition stopping county employees from bidding on tax delinquent properties will be expanded to include their immediate family members after the spouse of a then-high ranking county official purchased a Franklin parcel at last year’s auction.

Shields confirmed in an interview with the The Daily Star that she recommended that the sale of the Franklin property to the wife of then-county Social Services Commissioner William Moon be disapproved because of what she called “an appearance of impropriety.”

However, Shields said she was overruled by the finance committee of the county Board of Supervisors and the sale of the land to Moon’s wife, Jeanne Keahon of Treadwell, was approved.

Keahon had been the top bidder for the 9.23-acre parcel on Poet Hill Road, paying $9,500, according to county records reviewed by The Daily Star. The county’s assessed value of the land was $25,000.

Earlier this year, a new deed was issued in the names of both Moon and Keahon. Before he retired from county government at the end of last December, Moon told the supervisors in his farewell speech that he planned to build a retirement home on the Franklin land, Shields noted.

Moon, who has since landed a job as Sullivan County’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Family Services, said Shields has no basis for questioning the sale of the parcel to his wife, pointing out she was not a county employee.

“Ultimately, it comes down to sour grapes,” said Moon, noting that county supervisors approved the sale because no rule was violated and there was no prohibition against spouses buying parcels.

Moon said Shields is now being vindictive because he had questioned her ability to carry out her duties a decade ago when the county board stripped her of certain tasks and created the fiscal affairs department, headed by Christa Schafer, who also serves as the clerk to the county board.

The chairman of the county board, Harpersfield Supervisor James Eisel Sr., said no rules were violated in the sale to Moon’s wife.

“It’s perfectly legal what went on,” Eisel said.

He noted that the county board is reviewing the restrictions on those allowed to purchase from the auction, and will consider expanding the ban to the family members of county employees. Any recommendation made by Shields will be evaluated by the Finance Committee, he said.

“I think we’re going to tighten up on the terms of sale,” he said.

Shields’ county position is an elected one, making her independent of board control. She and the county board have clashed on occasion, and she unsuccessfully brought a lawsuit against the board after her duties were reduced, challenging the decision.

One of the duties she has as treasurer is overseeing the annual auction of foreclosed properties. 

Shields estimated about 60 to 70 parcels will be included in the next sale, slated for July. The treasurer’s office handles all aspects of the auction preparations, and uses a local professional auctioneer for the day. As a result, no commissions are tacked on to the prices paid by bidders, unlike some counties that contract the work to auction companies.

“I like to keep the money in the county,” Shields said.

Delaware County also accepts redemptions of the parcels slated to be auction right up until the actual sale.

The current rules ban not only officers and employees of the county from bidding at the tax auction but also officers and employees of the towns in which individual properties are located. 

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