Earlier today, I wrote about an article I wrote many years ago about bureaucrats who would not bother to go the extra mile. My reference was to people from the state's Division of Labor who would not do anything other than the bare minimum necessary to find out what the prevailing wage was for a county.
Apparently, some county officials don't go the extra mile to find the truth either.
The Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Jasper County Collector Stephen Holt jumped the gun when he handed over the deed to a piece of Joplin property without requiring the new owner who bought it at a tax sale to make a legitimate effort to get in touch with the former owner.
The decision reversed the one made by Jasper County Circuit Court Judge William Carl Crawford who said Stephen Bullard was given due process during the sale of property at 2704 Jackson, Joplin. Bullard sued Holt and the woman who bought his property, Teresa M. Schirmer-Johnson.
According to the appellate opinion, Bullard and his wife, Brenda, bought the land as rental property in July 1983. Bullard never lived there and the mortgage company paid the real estate taxes throughout the 15-year mortgage.
Bullard became the sole owner of the property in June 1989 after his divorce. In 1992, Bullard moved to Wisconsin, filing a change of address with the post office. His property was managed and rented by Manard Realty. Bullard moved to Minnesota in 1995. After his mortgage was paid in full three years later, he no longer received tax statements because they were sent to his former Joplin address.
In August 2000, Teresa Johnson bought the property at a tax sale for $3,100. Manard Realty was still managing the property, according to the opinion. Ms. Johnson contacted Manard about buying the property from Bullard, who was still receiving rent from the tenants.
In May 2001, Manard sold its assets to Broshears Realty. Bullard listed the property with Broshears, "which placed a for sale sign in the yard; the property listings ranged from $50,000 to $59,000," the opinion said. "The sign remained on the property until after Broshears was notified of Johnson's interest."
On Aug. 2, 2002, after she had conducted a title search, Ms. Johnson sent notice by certified mail to Bullard...at his former Joplin address. Eighteen days later, the letter was returned to Ms. Johnson unopened. That December, Holt gave the deed to the property to Ms. Johnson, according to the opinion.
Bullard filed suit in April 2003. He said the law that requires that notice be sent to the "last known available address" had not been followed since she knew he no longer lived at the Joplin address. He pointed out that Johnson knew from her conversations with Manard Realty and Broshears Realty that renters were making payments to Bullard. "Bullard produced evidence that his correct address was contained in the real estate company's records and a representative of the real estate company testified he would have notified Bullard immediately had he received any notice."
Judge Crawford agreed with Ms. Johnson's contention that she only had to send a letter to Bullard at the last address listed with the county collector's office.
The opinion said, "The purchaser, Johnson, had actual knowledge that the tax records did not have an accurate address for the titled owner when the notice was returned to her. She had actual notice that two different real estate companies were working for the owner and the property had been listed for sale. She knew that the property was continuously being rented and was not abandoned."
How the Jasper County Collector could not have recognized that also, as well as Judge Crawford, seems a bit questionable. The case has been remanded to Jasper County Circuit Court.