Last Thursday, the Historic Society gathered at the Children’s Museum portion of the Depot Museum to hammer out how it plans to deal with the Depot’s financial deficit, one which has the potential of closing the doors of the Depot.
One option that has boiled to the top involves selling the trains outside the Depot, both of which, according to Depot Executive Director Mimi Reid Hardman, are hers to sell, because she acquired them in the first place, she said.
But at issue is a contract between the City of Lake Wales and the Historic Society, in which a sum of $10 was presented, according to the contract, so the city would take possession of the trains, which include the engine, the passenger train car, the caboose and the fencing at the Depot. The contract also included the Children’s Museum located North of the Depot on the parcel and the 1916 Seaboard Atlantic Line Depot North of that building.
The transfer was approved, with Hardman’s signature and notorized as a Bill of Sale, prepared by City Attorney Albert C. Galloway, dated Jan. 22, 2013.
However, Nick Smith, a community volunteer at the Depot, had told the city commission that the contract was not done correctly.
In a letter dated Aug. 6, 2014, sent by Hardman to City Clerk Clara VanBlargan, and copied to City Manager Ken Fields, Hardman notes that, “We have searched our records and find no evidence of payment” per the contractual agreement.
Hardman said that as such, if the city could not provide evidence that it paid the bill, then the bill of sale was considered “null and void under Florida Statute and the train cars and ornamental fence are still the property of the Society.”
In a response letter dated Aug. 11, 2014, City Attorney Albert C. Galloway said the bill of sale and city records have on file “your acknowledgment as president of the Historic Lake Wales Society Inc., of the receipt and sufficiency of ‘Ten Dollars ($10) and other good and valuable consideration’ from the City of Lake Wales.”
“The bill of sale is not a nullity due to lack of consideration as suggested in your letter,” he added.
In a prior city commission meeting, Smith advised that the Depot wanted to sell the trains and fencing to Viking Recyclables for about $25,000, which would, he said, give them time to come up with a financial plan for the Depot’s future.
Meanwhile, at last Thursday’s Society meeting, if the Society wants to pursue action concerning the contract and press the City’s hand legally in the matter, according to the Society’s legal counsel, Deming Cowles, “It would take a long time.”
He noted the city manager does not have the power to close the museum, and reminded the Society that Fields said he did not want to sell the trains from the Depot.
The Depot needs somewhere between $1,400 and $1,600 a month to operate, Hardman noted.
The Society then planned to approach the commission once again, asking Fields at Tuesday’s meeting if the City would sell the trains and then give the money to the Depot to keep it open for the next year.
“If the train is not an option, the question is are there some people in the community that are willing to step forward for the $1400 a month or whatever to keep the doors open?” Cowles asked.
The Society also has dwindled, whether from having people on vacation or preoccupied, or because some have gone to other endeavors.
Cowles also said the question the Society needs to ask is what is the status of the Historical Society and “is it an organization that is thriving or whether it is just a few of us getting together occasionally to talk about historic news?”
“I think everybody in the community seems to want to keep the museum open. The question is how to pay for it,” he said.
Cowles said Fields want to make a task force, have the museum close, and then “take a year” to plan the Depot’s future.
“A year is forever,” Cowles said, “And in political circles, that’s exacting how you bury something, by studying it for a year or two. Of course, they want more time and more time.”
Hardman emphatically said, “We are not closing the Depot Museum.”
She said that because of the controversy, people have “already started coming in and picking their stuff up,” that they have donated.
In attendance at last Thursday’s noon meeting of the Historic Society were Deming Cowles, who serves as the Society’s legal counsel; Jessica Bray, the Society Secretary for the meeting; members Jack Neal and Linda Johnson, and Mimi Reid Hardman.
Nick Smith, who has been spearheading the sale of the trains, stopped in long enough to drop off some ice for the glasses of water passed around before the meeting. Smith also brought board members a copy of City Attorney Chuck Galloway’s letter sent in response to Smith’s accusation that the contract written in 2013 to deed the trains to the city was fraudulent.