COLUMBIA, 10/2/11 (Beat Byte) -- For a dozen years, Hubbell Drive residents helped an elderly neighbor with home repairs, shopping, doctors' appointments, and anything she couldn't do for herself. With family out of state, the North Village Columbia neighborhood had become for this woman a powerful, supportive lifeline and a place of warmth and love.
Two years ago, the woman suffered a stroke that left her with memory loss. At age 72, she entered a nursing home. Although her Hubbell Drive neighbors visited twice-weekly and tended her house, and her family visited to support and implement her decisions, on July 1 Boone County circuit court judge Deborah Daniels found the woman "incapacitated" and placed her affairs in the hands of Boone County public administrator Cathy Richards.
The woman was no longer competent, the court declared, to make her own decisions -- one of which included selling her beloved home on Hubbell to the neighbors she had grown to love and trust. "For many years, the woman had told me that she wanted me to have her house, but she never put anything in writing," said area resident Mara Aruguete, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
Her home will be auctioned instead, said Richards, who told the Heart Beat that she is the woman's legal guardian. Judge Daniels granted Richards permission to sell the Hubbell Dr. home on August 15. Four days later, "two different parties" contacted Richards about buying it.
Richards won't divulge identities, but sources tell the Heart Beat that on August 19, real estate agent and developer lobbyist Don Stamper met with Richards, her office's lawyer Mick Wilson, and some Hubbell Drive neighbors who also want to buy the property. Stamper -- who also directs the Central Missouri Development Council -- reportedly arranged the meeting on behalf of his client, Boone County Family Resources (BCFR).
"Their early contact will not effect the method of sale, the time of sale or any part of the sale," Richards told the Heart Beat.
Regardless, neighbors were concerned about the appearance of collusion between two county agencies and Mr. Stamper, a former Boone County presiding commissioner with longstanding political and professional ties to Richards and her office. "Several neighbors are speculating that secret deals might be happening between you and BCFR over the Hubbell property," area resident Chip Gubera wrote Richards on August 31.
Various circumstances about Stamper's appearance struck Gubera and others as questionable. The house wasn't on the market nor had it been publicly advertised, so they wondered how Stamper heard about it. When he made the inquiries as a real estate agent, Mr. Stamper was also listed as a BCFR Board member on the agency's website, a role he took in 2008 that would pose a considerable conflict of interest.
Finally, "Mr. Stamper brokered deals for Boone County Family Resources to purchase three properties on St. Joseph this summer," said Aruguete.
When they heard about her involvement in mid June, friends and family members contacted Richards about plans for the house. "Anytime the Public Administrator sells real property, it is sold at a public auction," Richards told the Heart Beat. "The public auction will be advertised, as are all other public auctions conducted on behalf of the Public Administrator."
Because every one will have a chance to bid on the home, the auction strikes neighbors as a fair approach -- and has allayed many of their concerns.
"Our minds were put to rest when the public administrator emailed Chip Gubera to say that the house would be auctioned," Aruguete told the Heart Beat. "The auction company has announced a date of Oct. 12 for the sale. I will bid on the house. I am thankful that the auction is a fair process."
[Out of respect for the woman's family -- Greek immigrants, we're told -- this story does not mention her by name. Meanwhile, the woman's court-appointed, Columbia-based lawyer, Rachael Kennedy declined to answer questions citing confidentiality. Mick Wilson did not respond to requests for comment, but Mr. Stamper posted a lengthy response on a local listserv, previously reported].