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Colby may buy land for development

The city of Colby is looking to purchase land for future development, but at this point, city officials aren’t saying where that land is located, how much it may cost or what kind of development is being proposed.

At a special city council meeting held Aug. 12, council members met in closed session with Kelly Weiler of EXIT Realty to discuss “the purchase of property,” according to the agenda. No action was taken in open session, and the meeting appeared to adjourn in closed session.

The council cited an exemption in the state’s opening meeting law that allows governmental bodies to deliberate or negotiate the purchases of properties in private — but only when “competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session.”

Before the council went into closed session, the Tribune-Phonograph attempted to get more information about what land the city was looking at buying and for what purpose.

City clerk Connie Gurtner said the city was unable to state what land it was looking at purchasing because it would harm the city’s bargaining position.

“The reason it’s not more specific is the land is not technically for sale yet,” Gurtner said. “So, it’s not public record that the land is even for sale.”

Gurtner did say the land was being looked at for a “potential industrial park or development of the city.”

When asked to elaborate further, she mentioned a “potential street” in a future industrial park.

Later in the discussion, Mayor Jim Schmidt said the land was for a “future industrial and residential area.”

Both Gurtner and Schmidt said that revealing any more details would jeopardize the city’s ability to make a deal.

“Giving away the location right now would take away our bargaining power,” she said, noting that someone else could bid on the land if it was stated publicly.

According to the open meeting compliance guide, published by the Wisconsin attorney general’s office, “holding closed meetings about ongoing negotiations between the city and private parties would not prevent those parties from seeking a better deal elsewhere.”

“The possibility of such competition, therefore, did not justify closure,” under the bargaining exemption, the compliance guide states.

Still, city officials insisted that revealing this information would be detrimental to the city.

Mayor Schmidt said in the past when information about a potential property purchase was published in the newspaper, the price was jacked up, and “we lost the deal.”

Gurtner said the city was simply trying to protect its bargaining interests.

“Not giving the actual location of the property isn’t violating the open meetings law because, if we gave the location of the property, somebody else could come in since it’s not listed,” she said. “If it was publicly listed it, that would be one thing, but it’s not.”

Ald. Dan Hederer, however, noted that word has already gotten out about the property the council was discussing in closed session.

“Just an FYI, there are quite a few people who know about it already, the property,” he said. “I’m just saying.”