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Smith property deal with sup't. candidate raises questions

One of the three finalists for the top job in the Fayette County School System has some real estate buying and selling history with the current chairwoman of the Board of Education.

The two leading characters in the story are Board Chairman Terri Smith and former Assistant Superintendent Lyn Wenzel, who likely is the leading contender for the superintendent’s position with the Fayette County School System, replacing recently retired Dr. John DeCotis.

Eleven years ago Smith and Wenzel became neighboring property owners on the same day in a development called “The Compound,” an undeveloped tract of 106 acres containing a lake off Bankstown Road west of Brooks. The entire tract had been purchased by Burton L. Clark, a real estate developer and business associate of Smith’s husband. (More about Clark later in this story.)

Wenzel seems to have gotten a good price on the 16.88 acres she and her husband bought for $5,000 an acre at a time when development was occurring at a fever pace in Fayette County. Within two years, Wenzel sold the land for a 29 percent profit back to another one of Smith’s husband’s business associates.

Some critics of Wenzel have charged that the real estate deal more than a decade ago raises questions about whether Smith can cast an impartial vote to hire the next superintendent, given their past business association.

Contacted about her previous ownership of 16.88 acres near now-Chairwoman Smith, Wenzel would only reference the residential property she currently owns in Peachtree City.

“All I know is what I own in Peachtree City,” Wenzel said.

County records show the then-Wenzel property as part of the 106.84-acre subdivision along Bankstown Road called The Compound.

It was on April 7, 1999 that paperwork was filed to buy each of the seven tracts from Burton L. Clark, a business associate of James W. Smith, Jr., Terri Smith’s husband.

Terri Smith at the time was a year away from being elected to her first term on the Board of Education, but Wenzel was already serving as principal of J.C. Booth Middle School.

The 24.26-acre Tract 1 was purchased by James W. Smith, Jr. for $116,250. Tract 1 was transferred to his wife and FCBOE Chairman, Terri, on Sept. 27, 1999.

The 16.88-acre Tract 5 of The Compound was purchased the same day — April 7, 1999 — by Jeffrey G. Wenzel and Lynda S. Wenzel for $84,400, with a balloon note carried by the Bank of Georgia. That’s $5,000 per acre for land situated less than five miles away from the then-brand-new Starr’s Mill school complex just south of Peachtree City.

Two years later, the Wenzel property was sold for $109,000 — or $6,457 per acre — to Aspect Holdings, Inc. on Dec. 13, 2001, shortly before a balloon note came due on the property. That’s a profit of $24,600 — or 29 percent — for Wenzel on the still-undeveloped property.

Aspect Holdings — until it was administratively dissolved in May 2008, according to the Ga. Secretary of State — was owned by another James Smith business associate, Mike Morris, who also owned one of the subdivided tracts within The Compound.

The real estate transactions began with Burt Clark, who, at least in the past, has been a business associate of James W. Smith, Jr. Clark was the representative of at least one of Smith’s companies that had development proposals submitted to the Tyrone Planning Commission and Town Council.

And it was Clark’s sister, Joy Clark Belyeu, who attended a recent meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education and charged board member Bob Todd with potential ethics violations during the public comments portion of the meeting. Chairwoman Terri Smith later acknowledged that “Joy Clark” was Burt Clark’s sister Joy.

The remaining five tracts at The Compound were also sold to five other couples or groups on April 7, 1999.

• Tract 2 totaling 13.7 acres was purchased by Michael W. and Desiree K. Morris. Mike Morris was listed as the agent for Aspect Holdings, Inc.

• Tract 3 totaling 7.78 acres was purchased by Danny and Patricia Carden.

• Tract 4 with 15.79 acres was purchased by Burt and Deborah Clark.

• Tract 6 totaling 20.11 acres was purchased by Clark, Smith and Morris.

• And the 8.29-acre Tract 7 was purchased by Douglas W. and Karen H. Howett.

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