The Director of the Carnegie Museum, Patricia Dickerson, was granted a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against Hanford resident Mike Quinn.
Quinn was ordered to stay at least 150 yards away from Dickerson, her family, house, car, the Carnegie Museum, and her daughter’s school. The TRO was granted March 15.
A hearing was held on April 5 in Kings County Superior Court where the TRO was continued but modified so Quinn could travel downtown to run necessary errands.
Quinn filed an anti-SLAPP suit against Dickerson to get the TRO dismissed.
California’s anti-SLAPP law was passed to remedy when a government entity obtains a TRO in order to silence its critics. Quinn believes Dickerson’s TRO is in retaliation for his being critical of the museum. Two other anti-SLAPP suits are working their way through the courts in Lemoore and Coalinga and involve their city’s councils.
The next hearing is set for the first week of June.
Dickerson Claims Harassment
Dickerson’s petition states about Quinn, “All of them (her family) are followed to the park, to school or work, and followed and recorded by either a car mounted camera or cell phone. Sometimes the recording is done in front of our faces as we walk by. He (Quinn) will shout he has a right to do this. He drives by my home and business menacingly.”
“He drives by my home constantly. When I am in the park he will get out of his car and follow me…He also follows my husband to pick up my 12-year-old daughter at school. He was escorted out of my workplace by police.”
She stated, “He writes falsehoods on Facebook and reports falsehoods to the city council who has the lease to my business.”
Quinn Claims he is Auditing the Museum
Quinn’s anti-SLAPP suit filed April 2 states, “Petitioner, the manager of a City of Hanford subsidized museum, is trying to suppress the petition and free speech rights of Respondent. Petitioner is apparently upset that respondent has been publicly critical of the City Government’s financial subsidizing of the museum. This action has been brought to silence the criticism by Respondent.”
Quinn told the Voice that residents are concerned because they feel the museum is mismanaged, is out of compliance with the city and state, and appears to have excessive and unauthorized use after hours.
“After the museum closed I have seen the lights on and kids going in and out. It looked like Patricia was using the museum as a private venue.”
“Because the membership is not looking, the city is not looking, the state is not looking, I’m afraid the building is going to become an unauthorized venue hall on the Hanford taxpayer’s dime.”
To substantiate his claims, Quinn has been observing the foot traffic at different times of day and night at the museum over the last several months. He then presented his findings during public comment at the Hanford city council meetings about the irregular hours and events going on at the museum.
Quinn also told the Voice that he and other Hanford residents are concerned because several board members have resigned and old Hanford families have let their memberships go.
“The by-laws have been changed concerning who can be a member. Now it’s being run like a private club,” said Quinn.
Former city council member Diane Sharp said that she tried to join the museum twice in 2018. The first time she was on the city council and included a donation of $100 with her application. Weeks later Sharp was told by Dickerson that, “I was not eligible to be a member because the by-laws forbade members of the city council from being members of the museum.” Dickerson returned the check.
The second time Sharp tried she was also rejected “because I had publicly raised concerns about the organization’s management and degree of compliance with the city’s lease as part of my job as a council member.”
Sharp’s adult daughter’s application has been pending for months. “She’s just trying to join her town’s little history museum, not get into The Bohemian Club. It’s as troubling as it is astounding.”
Quinn said that he has never followed Dickerson’s family in the park nor yelled at them as she states in her petition. Concerning the accusation of his following her husband, Quinn said he became suspicious when her husband slowly drove by his house, which is on a semi-isolated street.
“I thought he was stalking me so I got in my car and followed him. When I saw his daughter get in the car I left.”
The Lawyers State Their Case
David Lange from Dias Law Firm is representing Dickerson and considers this a civil harassment case. He advised Dickerson not to speak to the Voice.
In a letter he wrote, “My client stated her position in her court pleadings–that she is a victim of harassment by Mr. Quinn. The court found her side of the story was compelling enough to grant a Temporary Restraining Order preventing Mr. Quinn from coming near her.”
His letter also stated that it is better for the case to be litigated in the courts rather than the press. Lange will be filing a response to Quinn’s suit by the end of April that will be available to the public.
The Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield is representing Quinn and filed the anti-SLAPP.
In it they state,
“Respondent (Quinn) has spoken at City Council meetings, on agendized items, regarding the City’s continuing to subsidize, at taxpayer expense, the museum. Petitioner’s complaint and demand for a (TRO) directly interferes with Respondent exercising his petition rights and right to free speech. Petitioner’s demand for an order ‘reframe (sic) from badmouthing me on facebook and my family and place of business and to the City Council who has the lease to my place of business’ is a text-book example of a classic SLAPP suit.”
“The subsidy assumes certain facts about foot-traffic, public benefit usages, etc. Petitioner is attempting to stop Respondent’s audit of the traffic, conducted from a lawful place he has a right to be, which will in turn be reported back to the Council. Respondent has an absolute right to report what he has learned to the City Council, and of course, he has the right to travel the city streets, including city-owned parking lots.”
Is it a Subsidy?
Whether Hanford is subsidizing the museum is not a settled issue. Nor is it clear if the city or residents have any say on how the museum is managed.
While the residents of Hanford are free to complain, and they often do, what’s not clear is if Dickerson has no recourse when she becomes their target. Dickerson is not the chairperson or even on the museum board, but is its employee.
Quinn makes the nexus between the Carnegie Museum and its being a public building because the city is forgoing tens of thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue; thus, making it subsidy.
But other legal and real estate experts say they do not know of any recognized legal analysis that states a city is subsidizing an organization just because it rents their building for $1 a year.
According to Darrell Pyle, Hanford City Manager, the only relationship between the city and the museum is as landlord and tenant.
The lease agreement signed in October of 1996 is between the City of Hanford (“Lessor”) and “Hanford Carnegie Museum Inc., a non-profit corporation, of the State of California (“Lessee”).” The term of the lease is 34 years and six months ending June 30, 2031. At the end of the term the Carnegie Museum has an option to renew the lease for another 35 years.
Pyle said the museum is a private corporation like any other private business and can make its own rules on who can be a member, what events to hold, and at what hours day or night to be open. Neither the Carnegie Museum nor the artifacts inside belong to Hanford.
The city can decide not to lease the building to the museum, but the lessor cannot tell the lessee what to do.
Pyle pointed out that Hanford is not part of the suit, which is exclusively between Dickerson and Quinn.
Mark Avedian of Avedian Properties said, “Whoever has the lease can say who goes in or out of the building and when it is open.” He said even if the museum were subsidized by the city he didn’t believe it made the Carnegie Museum a public building.
Avedian figured this was more of a matter for the lawyers to fight out in court, but in his opinion, he feels that the lease should be honored. “It’s just like a normal lease with any other business owner even if it is for $1 a year.”
Mary Jarvis, a family law lawyer, leaned more toward the belief that Hanford does subsidize historical museum for the benefit of the residents. She likened the Carnegie Museum to Visalia’s Ice House Theater, where the city rents its building to the organization for $1 a year.
Jarvis felt that the intangibles of a city bringing culture and history to its residents motivated Visalia and Hanford to subsidize organizations such as the ice House Theater and the Carnegie Museum. She felt it was appropriate for the city to provide more oversight of the museum and that would lead to more accountability to its taxpayers.
“If you think of it rationally, how do you justify that it is not subsidized by the city when the historical museum is getting such an awesome building.”
She asked rhetorically if the museum would have the funds to rent a similar building. “It’s a win-win situation. Could they have ever purchased that building on their own even with the maintenance issues?”
Jarvis said that the Ice House Theater building also needed a huge amount of work but said the organization was happy to do it. “That’s basically saying thank you to the city.”
“Run like the old Tammany Hall”
Quinn also pointed out that Dickerson’s support for Hanford City Council Member Francisco Ramirez’ 2018 campaign endangers the museum’s 501(c) (3) tax exempt status. According to the lease, that would be grounds for the city to terminate the rental agreement.
“The museum is being run like the old Tammany Hall,” he said.
Ramirez did confirm that Dickerson worked on his 2018 campaign but did so as a private citizen, not on behalf of the museum. Even so, Ramirez recuses himself from voting on museum issues during city council meetings.
“Even though it is legally not necessary, I have recused myself twice,” he said.
Ramirez was present when Quinn and other members of his group were escorted out of the museum last December. He said during the museum’s Christmas event, Quinn and residents Skip Athey and Mark Cole were heckling Dickerson. He thought it was “in very poor taste” and supported Dickerson’s decision to call the police.
“Mark even wanted to get into a fight and said ‘let’s take it outside,’” said Ramirez. “I just said whatever, how about another time.”
Ramirez falls on the side that the city is not subsidizing the museum. The Carnegie Museum solicits donations from the public but the city of Hanford has never contributed. Ramirez said that if Hanford did donate taxpayer money to the museum then he would see that as a subsidy.
Quinn’s only concern is with Museum
Quinn told the Voice that he is not adverse to Dickerson being manager of the museum and thinks she can grow into the position. He has also been encouraged that the museum has filed the necessary paperwork and is now in compliance with the city and state.
“I have zero interests in her, her kids, her husband or anything they do outside of the museum. The Carnegie has a new board and even with Patricia as the manager I hope it can become what it once was.”