September 27, 2023 822 PM
PECOS — On August 25, the City of Pecos filed a lawsuit against Willmar Land, LLC and 124 South Oak Street LLC — the latter of which is filed under Big Bend Law, the private practice of Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton. The suit claims that a property in downtown Pecos was unlawfully sold by the city in 2021 to Joe McFadden of Willmar Land — during which time Ponton was Pecos city attorney — who in turn sold the property to an LLC belonging to Ponton in 2022.
Because the sale violated statutory requirements governing the sale of city land, the suit argues, the sale should be rendered void.
At a meeting on January 28, 2021, Pecos council members approved a resolution that would sell the property to Willmar Land, LLC for $35,000. Ponton was the City of Pecos attorney at the time of the sale to Willmar — and had also been city attorney when the property was originally purchased from the West of the Pecos Museum.
Ponton told The Big Bend Sentinel that he had nothing to do with the sale, which he claims was negotiated between McFadden and the then city manager.
In the petition filed with the 143rd District Court, current City of Pecos Attorney Parker Johnson argues that that sale never should have happened. By ordinance, city-owned property must be bought and sold by a set process: the property must be posted in the newspaper and open for public bid.
McFadden, whose Willmar Land, LLC also owns property in Brewster County, said that then-City Manager Seth Sorenson approached him about buying the property in Pecos. The building on the property was in a dilapidated state and in danger of being torn down. “The city wanted to fix it up, but drug their feet for a few years,” he said. “And [Sorenson] knew that I was looking at properties over there.”
Sorenson submitted the resolution to city council authorizing the sale, which was then approved by a vote before the property could be publicly posted for bid. (He could not be reached for comment.)
A little over a year later, McFadden suffered a stroke and had to return home to recuperate. To lighten his load, he sold the property to Ponton. “I love Pecos and I wanted to stay, but the stroke changed everything in my life,” McFadden said.
Both McFadden and Ponton said that properties had been sold in Pecos through the city council — without going out for public bid — many times before, and didn’t understand why they should be treated any differently. “There are properties on the same street that have been sold the same way,” Ponton said.
The suit argues that because the city did not follow its own ordinance, the sale of the land to McFadden — and thus the transfer of the land to Ponton — was unlawful, and that the resulting deeds were void. “The sale of the property from [the City of Pecos] was done in violation of the statutory requirements … for sale of property by municipalities,” the petition reads.
If the suit is successful, ownership of the 118 South Oak Street property will be returned to the City of Pecos, and the city will also be reimbursed for attorney fees.
Ponton claimed that the suit was just “dirty politics” and that transferring the deed back to the city would violate Texas property law. “You shouldn’t involve a city in the legal system on the basis of a bogus claim,” he said.