During the Monday, Aug. 4 City Commission work session, City Attorney Sean Parker announced that the foreclosure sale on the Wonder House on Mann Street had taken place earlier that day and that the bank — Wells Fargo — which held the mortgage note, had been the successful bidder, at $80,000. In 10 days, said Parker, the bank will officially get title to the house.
This, he said, was good for the city.
“If nothing else, we’ll have an up-to-date contact,” Parker said. It is something the city needs as it has a lien against the Wonder House for property maintenance the city has performed in lieu of the previous owners.
“Who will be the contact?” Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer asked, to which Parker said he did not know whether administration of the property would be through the local Wells Fargo bank or elsewhere. He expressed the hope it would be through the Bartow branch.
The Wonder House was built between the 1920s-1930s by Conrad Schuck, starting in 1926. It was at the time very innovative and featured a number of things that made it unique, among them walls one foot thick and concrete walls laden with mosaic flecks.
It once was a tourist attraction in which people paid a dime to visit during The Great Depression; it went up to 25 cents following World War II. It was featured on picture postcards.
The most recent purchase of the Wonder House was in 2003. It was abandoned in 2011 when its then-owners, Chuck and Helen Heiden separated and later divorced.
In another matter, Parker provided a summary of a recent municipal attorney conference he had attended. Among the topics discussed at the conference was the ongoing struggle many communities face with what is termed “hyper-aggressive records requesters.”
From examples others provided at the conference, said Parker, requesters employ certain tactics including waiting until city staff is low, such as appearing during lunch hours or at the end of the day and demanding documents anyone is entitled to have because of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
It also is not unusual for those requesting documents to do so in less-than-positive manners, Parker said he had heard. In one such example Parker heard, a requester came in and was so demanding it flustered a temporary city employee and later led to a lawsuit filed by the requester.
“The conversation was what can be done legislatively,” said Parker.
Another hot topic was social media. Because of Florida’s Sunshine law(s), elected officials have to exercise care and restraint to avoid even the hint they are discussing community matters with another elected official if it is outside the permissible realm, such as at work sessions and regular public meetings.
It is a gray area at this time, said Parker, when it comes to posting comments on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and the like. Commissioner James F. Clements interjected a comment on this and spoke of a commissioner in another community who posted a general comment about cars without tags. Another commissioner in that same community responded with a “Me too.”
“Proceed with caution,” Parker said in summarizing the topic.
In other matters, the city attorney spoke of a matter in which a landowner had requested a waiver or reduction of a fine on a lien the city had placed. He did specify which property it was or who the owner is.
“The fact we’re being asked is a sign things are happening,” said Parker. “The first question I asked was, ‘Is the grass mowed?’ I was told yes.” Commissioners speculated it could be an indication someone might be interested in purchasing the property and agreed to bring up the topic at its next meeting.
“What is the status on Evergreen (Cemetery)?” Commissioner Leo Longworth asked Parker. He was told there would be a hearing this month.
“The Order of Taking’ will put the title into the city’s hands,” said Parker. “Thats’ going to be a real positive city thing, just having the comfort of knowing it will belong to the city.”
Once that is accomplished, then the city will be able to move forward to do serious maintenance on the cemetery, which it has not been able to do because of liability concerns. As a result, the city has limited itself to simple groundskeeping, primarily mowing.