Before committing three-quarters of a million dollars or more to a real estate deal that is murky at best, the McDowell County Commissioners should hold a public hearing and answer questions about the project.

As we reported Tuesday, the commissioners met in closed session on Friday, emerged afterward and voted to buy the former Rock Tenn building in downtown Marion for $750,000, offering few specifics on how the building would be used.

“The space would allow for the eventual consolidation of county services now spread out across numerous buildings (as shown in the assessment),” County Manager Ashley Wooten said in a text message to The McDowell News. “The county will work with an architect to identify what functions will work there and how to phase the project.”

What is puzzling is that the property sat vacant for years until businessman Wesley Gurley bought it in December for $275,000 and opened Gurley Storage LLC. Gurley told The McDowell News Monday he was not actively trying to sell when approached by county officials.

“They were the ones who were wanting it,” he said.

On Monday, Gurley raised his price to $950,000. Negotiations appeared to be ongoing as of this writing.

News that the McDowell County Commissioners were ready to spend $750,000 or more on a building that sold months before for $275,000 and sat empty for years prior raised some red flags with McDowell News readers.

“If I still lived in Marion, I’d be raising a serious ruckus about this one,” wrote Will Culbreath in a comment – one of more than 100 comments or reactions -- about the story. “Either county management was asleep at the wheel or something more sinister is at play. For a county that beats its chest about fiscal responsibility, this is absolutely unbelievable.”

We believe the county commissioners should hold a meeting and answer the public’s questions about the timing of the move, what will be done with the space if purchased and why no one who is supposed to be looking out for the county’s best interests knew the property could be had at or close to the December selling price.