Hanford City Council and Carnegie spar over finances and maintenance during meeting
A letter dated August 23 from the Hanford City Council, and hand delivered to the Carnegie Museum, informed museum Board President Sylvia Gonzales Scherer that unless a list of 18 repairs are completed within 10 days the city will terminate its lease with the museum.
The letter states, “This notice shall serve as the required 10 day written Notice to declare the Hanford Carnegie Museum in default. Failure to cure within such period will entitle the City to the remedies identified in Seton 13.B of the lease.”
Section 13.B of the lease between the city and the Carnegie Museum states:
“Lessor can terminate Lessee’s right to possession of the Premise at any time, subject to Lessee’s failure to comply with Lessee’s responsibilities as described in the lease herein.”
Hanford Carnegie Museum Inc. is a private non-profit corporation that leases the building in exchange for maintenance. The building, which was formerly city’s library, is owned by Hanford.
Among the list of 18 repairs is a demand to “ensure that all cracks in the exterior of the building are filled. Prior to the commencement of work, the tenant must obtain the City’s approval of any repairs to the masonry to ensure that the repairs don’t damage the structure and are consistent with the nature of the historic building.”
Scherer called for an emergency board meeting and initial actions were to set up a gofundme account and meet with the city.
According to Steve Alfieris, an attorney with Dias Law Firm representing the museum,
“Generally, termination provisions with a 10-day notice are legal, but, as applied to this case specifically, it is unreasonable to expect the museum to make all the specified repairs in just a 10-day window. This goes against the spirit of the lease and what donors have supported for decades. The City is being critical of items which were never at issue with previous boards and prior managers of the museum. Further, the duty to make repairs to the cracks in the building are at issue, as the museum believes it is the City of Hanford’s duty to repair the cracks. Of note, it was the City’s workers who repaired cracks a few years ago.”
“All of this leaves the question of why the city is really pursuing the Hanford Carnegie Museum in such a manner.”
Alfieris said that he and Scherer sent the city a letter on Friday requesting to meet with Hanford Community Development Director Darlene Mata and city attorney Ty Mizote either Tuesday or Thursday.
City Council Confronts Carnegie Museum during Meeting
Three days before the termination letter, Scherer and Alfieris went head-to-head with the city council as tensions flew during the August 20 city council meeting.
None of the requested repairs listed on the city’s letter came as a surprise to the museum board. But the representatives of the museum outlined the challenges they faced and gave a realistic time frame in which they could complete the list, none of which were reflected in the city’s letter.
Mata said complaints from the public had increased over the last few months about the Carnegie Museum’s finances, lack of maintenance, noise, declining membership, and misuse of the building.
Scherer told the city council that social media is partially to blame for a decrease in attendance and donations. That decrease she said has affected maintenance.
“Social media goes crazy,” said Scherer. She said one false statement causes a ricochet of rumors that result in people not wanting to donate or come to the museum. Scherer said that Hanford has some “very nice people but there are some very mean people who are out to destroy others” and use social media to do it.
“Naysayers are destroying the museum,” she said. Scherer asked that if someone has a concern or complaint about the museum “tell me don’t tell Facebook.”
Mata started the city council’s discussion at the meeting with a power-point presentation that showed minor and major maintenance problems with the historic building, primarily on the exterior.
Mata illustrated with pictures, taken during two in person visits in June, and a follow up visit that day, that most of the sprinklers were broken, there was little grass to speak of and that all but two rose bushes had died. The pictures showed mounds of dirt destined for flowerbeds that were graded incorrectly and would allow water to flow next to the building. Dirt was also piled up against the wrought iron fence that would lead to rusting.
She also showed pictures of a non working HVAC unit and apparent cracks in the masonry down the side of the tower that could allow water intrusion and cause permanent damage.
Besides maintenance issues, the pictures illustrate clutter and debris littered around the grounds. Mata said that, besides the needed repairs, the city would be requesting that the museum do a better job of keeping the grounds clean.
The last slide showed that a sink in one of three bathrooms was broken.
Scherer explained that they are doing their best given limited finances. Most work, clean up and repairs are done with the use of volunteers.
She said that they laid $1500 worth of new sod in April but a heat wave killed it. Scherer felt personally responsible and said that when it gets cooler in the fall she was going to pay for new sod herself.
Scherer said they have a plumber lined up to fix the sink but that it would be on a volunteer basis and they do not have a set date.
As for the cracks, they hired Lane Engineering of Visalia to inspect the building in April. The report indicated that the crack was stable and not an issue. Additional cracks were found when Mata visited earlier that day.
Frustrations flared during the discussion about the broken sink. City Council Member Martin Devine was under the impression that someone using the bathroom would have to go into another bathroom to wash their hands. Mata brought up the fact the broken sink was in close proximity to the kitchen and posed a food handling sanitary issue.
After failing to adequately describe the layout of the building Scherer finally said, “You guys need to come and visit. I will buy the wine and cheese. I will give you a full tour and of all the repairs we have made.”
Before Mata’s presentation the public voiced its concerns for and against the current management of the museum.
Emily Burnias, a Veteran’s advocate, said that she and Museum Director Patricia Dickerson worked late into the night tearing out the old carpet and as a result heard rumblings that people were partying late at the museum. She requested that residents quit trying to tear each other down and work to build each other up.
Another Hanford resident, Matt Lame, said that he was amazed at what they have accomplished at the museum and that his kids loved it.
Dorothy Weiss said that she was a docent at the museum for seven years but that so much has changed that she was no longer comfortable working there. Like many residents, Weiss was under the impression that the city helps finance the museum.
Former City Council Member Lou Martinez said that “all the city wants is accountability” and suggested that the museum open up its meetings. “It’s our building,” he said. “And that means that the city is subsidizing it.”
Mike Quinn said he is a big supporter of the museum but remarked that the current path does not bode well. Among his many other complaints, he said that the current board doesn’t let anyone join the museum who disagrees with its opinion.
Quinn and Dickerson have been in a legal dispute after Dickerson obtained a restraining order March 15 against Quinn for allegedly stalking her and her family. Quinn retaliated by filing an anti-SLAPP suit that was dismissed in July. The two parties came to a civil agreement that Quinn would stay 100 feet away from Dickrson and her family except in the event of a city council meeting.
Dias Law Firm also represented Dickerson in defense of the anti-SLAPP suit and her restraining order, but Dickerson said she paid her own legal bills.
Scherer responded to Quinn saying that she is the one in charge of membership and that she has only received two applications this year. She said she doesn’t know where Quinn is getting his information.
Alfieris explained that this is a private corporation, and like any other private corporation, can choose its membership. He also explained that private organizations’ meetings are not open to the public and do not have to follow open meeting laws such as the Brown Act.
In terms of the lease that started January 1, 1997 and runs until 2031, Alfieres remarked, “Is this a gift from the city? No it is not because the museum has taken on the maintenance of a 115 year-old building.” Alfieres said that the corporation already installed a $100,000 roof on an asset they do not even own.
Finances? They Scare me said Scherer
One of the conditions of the lease is that the museum demonstrates that it is financially capable of maintaining the building. To do this the museum’s board submits a financial report every July 1.
Hanford Mayor Sue Sorensen asked how the museum planned on fulfilling that promise when its report says that it has $38,274 income but has $77,947 in expenses.
Scherer admitted that’s what kept her up at night. But when asked for specifics she said, “We are good right now.”
Council Member Art Brieno asked how the museum planned on fixing the HVAC unit and Scherer said that there were two other units but did not explain how they plan on paying for the third unit’s repairs.
Scherer did say that the museum had a few fundraisers planned for the fall. She also wanted to point out that Dickerson works so hard that her pay would only work out to be 50 cents an hour and that she has offered to work for free until the museum can get on its feet.
After discussion about the museum had ended Mata advised the city council to accept her report and recommend that she send what she referred to as a “punch list” of repairs to the museum board. Nothing was mentioned during the meeting about a 10-day termination letter.
The city council voted 5-0 to accept Mata’s report and prepare a list of needed repairs for the Carnegie Board.
To donate to the museums repair fund go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-the-remaining-museum-in-hanford-ca