Was Belleville's decision to buy the former Loflin furniture store in west Belleville a good decision? Is $159,000 a fair price? Does the city need more green space and one less vacant building on the tax rolls?
What's certain is that major decisions like this shouldn't just pop up and be decided in the blink of a City Council meeting. It wasn't listed by name on the council agenda Monday night, which left the public in the dark until after it was a done deal. Even many of the aldermen were blindsided; some of them heard about it for the first time in a closed-to-the-public executive session right before the vote. They deserved more advance notice than that.
The city didn't get an appraisal, which might have given it leverage to negotiate a lower price. All the council knows is that it's paying less than the selling price in 2007. That doesn't necessarily translate into a good deal -- especially when the city expects to spend another $100,000 on demolition.
Mayor Mark Eckert said it's impossible to negotiate a real estate purchase in public because it can drive up the price. However, that didn't seem a risk this time. The owner has been trying to sell the building for some time; the real estate agent called Eckert to tell him the price had dropped in the hopes the city would buy it. That tells you there was no other serious potential buyer.
Even people who applaud the purchase should be unhappy with the process. Impulse spending might be OK for shoppers at the grocery store checkout, but not for aldermen elected to spend tax dollars wisely.