Following the city of Camden’s recent purchase of a portion of the former Mather Academy property, we commented that we favored the move and that if the city chose to replace the outdated Rhame Arena, then the Mather property could certainly be a suitable site. Though we didn’t say so at the time, we felt all along that the city would be justified in replacing Rhame Arena, perhaps with updated amenities, but that the city didn’t need to get into the business of offering a full-fledged gym or fitness center; that’s better left to private enterprise. About that time, Charles King, owner of Atlas Gym in Camden, addressed council and expressed doubts about the Mather purchase and the city’s becoming involved in a recreation project. While we didn’t agree with King about the Mather purchase, we did think he made a good point with his comments about further recreational facilities -- the kind usually associated with a commercial venture -- not being a good fit for the city.
Since then, it’s been revealed that prior to King’s remarks, he had offered his Atlas Gym for sale to the city for $850,000, making that offer to Mayor Jeffrey Graham in a December letter and asking Graham to keep the letter in confidence. Looking back, it seems disingenuous of King to try to sell his business to the city, only later to have him campaign against that same type operation after the city expressed no interest in buying Atlas. It puts a different slant on his remarks. King should have revealed in his March public comments that he had made the sale offer.
The way that letter was handled inside City Hall is a bit hazy, too. We don’t think Graham or any city council members had an intention of misleading the public, but there were too many “I don’t remember” and “I’m not sure” type comments stated by council members when questioned about whether Graham had spoken to them back in December about the letter he’d received from King. We readily admit there was no violation whatsoever of public information laws, but neither was there much of an effort to deal with the situation openly. Sometimes such matters must be handled in a delicate manner, but things went a bit too far in this case.
We still think the city made a good move in buying the Mather property. But we’d feel a lot better about the entire matter if everyone had known earlier exactly what happened back in December.