At its Monday, Jan. 6 meeting, the Oakdale City Council moved forward to finalize property transfers, including land, structures, and exhibits, from city owned to the Friends of Oakdale Heritage (FOH), operators of the museum since 2009.
Last year as part of cost cutting measures for a drained city budget, the possibility of transferring museum facilities, including a residential home on Maple Drive that had been rented out for revenue, was presented by City Manager Bryan Whitemyer.
Due to the continued financial struggles of Oakdale, the city claimed it did not have the needed funds to pay for the normal maintenance of the museum, including the money needed to make some major repairs to the roof and chimney of the West F Street facility.
Questions regarding some of the process were ironed out Monday night with the city deciding that if FOH is no longer able to operate the museum after the transfer, that the city would be able to reclaim the properties upon default. Additionally, FOH could not incur debt on the property or use it as collateral for any loans without council approval.
“The goal is to protect the collection and structures so the citizens of Oakdale can enjoy that community asset,” said Whitemyer. “The Friends of Oakdale Heritage have done a great job of maintaining and bringing it up. I commend them on that.”
As part of the proposed agreement the FOH would be able to use revenue from renting the Maple Drive home or sell the property and use the proceeds for the museum operation.
In 1978 Naomi Sandl willed the Maple Drive property located to the city for the purpose of creating an “art and cultural center.” Over the last few years the city rented out the house using rent proceeds to fund museum operations.
There had been no maintenance or repairs to the facility and the last renters left the property a year ago. According to the city, the structure is not habitable in its current condition.
One of the main items of contention was brought up by Councilman Farrell Jackson, who pointed out that over the years the city has provided additional money to the museum from its general fund. The $55,000 has been kept in the city budget for years as an outstanding debt that Jackson expected to be repaid.
“This was given in the spirit of a loan,” said Jackson. “Those were taxpayer dollars. To me, that would be gifting of public funds in an obscene way.”
Councilman Mike Brennan countered Jackson stating that he saw the $55,000 as an “investment” into the city cultural programs.
Brennan added that if other city properties and structures, such as the Senior Center needed additional money for repairs and upkeep, additional amounts would have been funneled to those accounts.
Brennan proposed that if the city still requested pay back of the $55,000, that it be structured in a long-term format of only $1,000 or $1,500 per year.
Also during discussion, Brennan said he had received a letter from Glenn and Laura Burghardt, the former curator and former museum commission members.
The subject of the Burghardt’s letter was that previously loaned items by members of the community would have the opportunity to be recovered by those persons.
In 2007, the city had dismissed Glenn Burghardt, installed term limits for commission members, but later disbanded a new commission, causing the facility to close.
According to a Leader editorial from the time, the reason the city took such drastic action remained a mystery; some had speculated the dismissal of Burghardt and the entire museum commission stemmed from a personality conflict between city officials and members of the museum community.
City Attorney Tom Hallinan stated that when the FOH took over in 2009, the city gave opportunity for items to be recovered but to remove the city of additional liability, it could be done again.
FOH President Barbara Torres pointed out that in attempts to inventory items; it was very difficult to determine where many of the items came from.
Torres said of over 3840 items, only a third had a corresponding museum inventory number. She added that conditions of many of the loans stated if items weren’t recovered in 15 years, they would be considered donations.
Whitemyer was given direction by the council to move forward with the transfer and bring the finalized details back at a future date.