A panel tasked with determining the worth of Gov. Matt Bevin’s Jefferson County mansion performed its physical inspection of the property Tuesday in a tour that included at least one caveat — no press.
Kentucky State Police greeted reporters as they approached the property, showing them an order that stated the inspection was off limits to the media.
“The Jefferson County Board of Assessment Appeals, upon the request of the parties to this action, has determined that the physical inspection of the Subject Property required by KRS 133.120(13) is not a public meeting under the Open Meetings Act,” the order, signed by Clem Russell, the chairman of the board, said.
The physical inspection of the mansion in Anchorage plays an important role in a high profile challenge to the property’s value.
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“We think this is a meeting of the board,” said Jeremy Rogers, a First Amendment lawyer representing the Courier-Journal in Louisville. “They’re here to conduct public business and the Open Meetings Act provides for the public and the press to attend such board meetings.”
Earlier this year, newspaper report that Bevin purchased the house for well under its assessed value sparked two ethics complaints and the threat of an investigation from Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.
That makes the board of assessment appeals the last apparent hurdle to clearing Bevin’s name when it comes to the details surrounding the purchase of his house.
Bevin purchased the property and 10 acres from friend and political donor Neil Ramsey for $1.6 million in March.
The Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator listed the house and the surrounding 19 acres in January at $2.97 million. The city of Anchorage, where Ramsey serves as a city councilman, assessed the property at $2.2 million after Ramsey challenged a higher valuation.
In July, John May, a former Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator appointed by former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, said Bevin’s house was worth around $1.39 million.
In his appraisal, May argued there were several problems with the old house, particularly moisture issues in the basement and structure and problems with the windows.
“I’m not only saying I think it’s overvalued,” May told the Jefferson County Board of Assessment Appeals in July. “I think it’s grossly overvalued for the value of the allocation to the improvements. ”
At least part of the property’s high value comes from a deed transfer from 2013, when Ramsey transferred the property to his own LLC for $3 million following an award-winning renovation.
May has said the deed transfer is irrelevant because it does not fit the description of an arms-length transaction.
The appeals board “tentatively agreed” to hold a second meeting to address any issues that arose from the physical inspection.
The Board of Assessment Appeals has not released any further details of future meetings about the house.
The appeals board consists of three members appointed by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat. If Bevin isn’t satisfied with the board’s decision, he can appeal to the Kentucky Claims Commission, which consists of three members appointed by Bevin.