The unsavory matter of the county clerk’s free house has come to an appropriate end. But there’s still something that doesn’t smell right.
The house in the west part of Manhattan was auctioned to the highest bidder because of a mortgage foreclosure late in 2018. Riley County Clerk Rich Vargo was the only person who submitted a bid and got the house, which is appraised at $126,000, for $1.
The bank that held the mortgage on the property sued to overturn that sale on the grounds that it was unreasonable. A judge agreed and invalidated the deal. Last week, the auction was finally conducted again, and the bank ended up with the house after bidding $105,000. That seems appropriate, since the bank has a direct interest in recovering the debt.
Mr. Vargo, the longtime county clerk, declined to comment on the final resolution. That is, of course, his right. The only thing he has ever said is that he behaved the same way anyone else would. He had an opportunity, and he took it.
To a degree, he has a point. We also want to say that Mr. Vargo has been a model public servant during his tenure as the clerk.
What doesn’t smell right is how he managed to end up as the only bidder at that initial auction. There was a snafu between the bank and its lawyer that meant the bank was not represented at the auction, and there’s nothing to indicate anything other than a goof. There was a public notice published in the Riley Countian, a weekly paper that circulates in the rural northern part of the county. The appropriate legal procedures were followed.
But Mr. Vargo’s office is maybe 50 yards from the steps of the courthouse where the auction was held, and it’s hard for us to believe that he just randomly happened to show up for that event when nobody else did. Does he routinely hang around auctions? If so, shouldn’t he be doing his full-time job? If not, why did he happen to show up at this one? Did he have a tipster? Did he overhear something?
Those sound like the questions of a conspiracy theorist. But when something doesn’t smell right, and when an elected public official stands to gain financially at the expense of somebody else, there’s something wrong, and we need more answers.
Voters are going to have to make a decision on whether to re-elect Vargo this fall, and, now that the case is wrapped up, he owes all of us a full account of exactly how he came to know about that house. Then we can make a clear judgment about the propriety of it. Otherwise, the smell will remain.