Gwen Parker

Gwen Parker addresses the Cullman County Commission Tuesday on behalf of Victim Services of Cullman County.

What may have been a simple miscommunication led to a packed room Tuesday at an otherwise routine meeting of the Cullman County Commission, as more than 60 people — most of them sporting purple ribbons in commemoration of victims of abusive relationships — showed up to show their support for Victim Services of Cullman.

The overflow crowd left some guests standing and others spilling into the adjacent reception area and hallway. During the meeting’s public comments portion, one speaker after another got up to take a turn at the microphone on the organization’s behalf, urging commissioners not to sell the county-owned building in Cullman where Victim Services operates.

A puzzled Kenneth Walker, county commission chairman, eventually interrupted one speaker to assure the crowd that the county has entertained no plans to sell the building in the first place — unless, that is, Victim Services itself is the buyer. The organization occupies the space through an in-kind agreement with the county commission, which owns the property.

“It’s publicly for sale — for y’all,” Walker explained, clarifying after the meeting that an appraisal of the property in August of 2019 was done after Victim Services expressed interest in obtaining the building, and that the only discussion of selling the property that county officials have considered is one that positions the organization, which has operated in Cullman County for 28 years, as the buyer.

Leonard Design Architects purchased the adjoining property — the former home of the Cullman County Health Department — from the county commission in November of last year, and county officials had recently granted firm owner Jock Leonard a tour of the adjacent property, where Victim Services operates.

Walker said the commission felt it appropriate to offer Leonard an up-close look at the Victim Services site, since the parking area of the Health Department property abuts the lot where the Victim Services building is located. But he added that the commission’s appraisal of the Victim Service building, which returned a value estimate of $314,000, was done solely to offer Victim Services an opportunity to assay the market value of the building, after the organization showed an interest in purchasing the property if funds could be secured through outsourced contributions.

“Really, it’s the product of a miscommunication, and everyone involved, I think, has had good intentions,” said Walker following the meeting. “Victim Services is a community asset, and the last thing we’re going to do — that we were ever going to do — is put them out of their building.

“We had entertained the possibility of selling the building to them, so in that sense, the building still is for sale. But as of now, we have no intention of selling the building to anyone, unless it’s Victim Services.”

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