The city has placed a nearly $8,000 lien on the former St. Clair Historical Museum property, and the board of directors and museum volunteers are upset with how the situation was handled and that the lien was filed in the first place.

The lien apparently was placed on the property at 280 Hibbard St. in March, but St. Clair Historical Society members and others only found out about it recently. They claim they never were notified by anyone from the city about the lien or anything else related to it.

The museum and most of its contents were destroyed by a fire on Feb. 23. The building was razed the next day, and site cleanup was performed a few days later.

“This just came out of the blue,” museum President Carol Radford told The Missourian earlier this week. “We never received any notification from the city whatsoever. We were never contacted or given any kind of opportunity or time frame to do any of the cleanup on our own.

“It was just done, and now we find out there is a lien on our property.”

According to an email sent by City Administrator Rick Childers to museum volunteer Gib Hoffman on May 20, the lien amount totals $7,873.12, which appears to be the cost for the cleanup process charged to the city after the fire plus some city fees.

The listing of costs in the lien document include $3,616.12 from Progressive Waste Solutions of Missouri, $2,950 from Dace Excavating LLC, $700 from Spray Services Inc. and $453 from Precision Analysis. The other $154 is for city service and attorney fees.

“We’re a not-for-profit organization, and we are here to serve the community,” Radford said. “Our finances are driven by membership dues and donations. This high of a bill really hurts and will hamper our efforts to find a permanent home.

“We can’t afford this. If we would have been contacted by the city ahead of time, maybe we could have gotten all this done cheaper. We weren’t even given the chance. We were never contacted.”

The museum recently reopened at a temporary location next to St. Clair Health Mart Pharmacy, 855 N. Commercial Ave. Health Mart owners Steve and Sue Lindemann donated the office space for six months so the museum could start to get back on its feet and have the opportunity to search for a permanent new home.

The “new” museum features the few saved exhibits and items from the fire as well as new donations and items Radford and other museum members have found or purchased since the fire.

“We’ve been thinking all along that since we never heard from anyone, including the city, that this (razing and clearing) was taken care of in good faith,” Radford said. “Now, we find out differently.

“We’re disappointed in the city and the way this was handled,” she said. “Since the inception of the museum, we’ve bent over backward to serve the community. We’re a volunteer organization. None of us get any kind of a salary. We don’t have the money. Our pennies are precious.

“We’re just hurt. We feel unappreciated. I hope we can work something out. I think at a minimum the city owes us an apology for being so sneaky about this.”

Word of Mouth

Radford said museum members found out about the lien through some gossip around town. Hoffman said he would look into it, and he talked to Childers. That led to Childers emailing him the lien paperwork, Radford said.

Radford said that “if my memory serves me correctly, sometime shortly after the fire, (museum volunteer) Pat Todd talked to (city building inspector) Jeremy Crowe, who said he didn’t know if the city would pay for all the cleanup. Several days later, Pat called and said she heard the property was going to be cleaned up.

“We kept waiting to hear something — anything — from the city. We never heard anything.”

Moving forward, Radford said during the museum board’s April meeting Hoffman asked if anyone had heard anything about a lien placed on the museum property.

“Gib said he had heard second- or third-hand about it,” Radford said. “We all said we hadn’t heard anything about it from the city or anyone. Gib said he would check it out.”

During the group’s May meeting, Hoffman reported that he had been promised a copy of the lien paperwork.

“So even at our May meeting, we still didn’t have any idea what was going on,” Radford said. “Gib said he would go back to city hall and check on it.”

That was when the email was sent from Childers to Hoffman, Radford said.

“When Gib was emailed, that was the first time we had seen anything,” Radford said. “Still to this day, the museum has not received any official notification from the city.”

The historical society conducted its June meeting on Tuesday night. Mayor Ron Blum was invited, and he did attend.

Some museum volunteers found out about the lien during that most recent meeting.

“I’m really upset about this,” volunteer Carolyn Barnes said. “I’m shocked to find this out tonight. The city didn’t send a bill to a client, and there was no explanation? That is not good practice.

“I can’t believe this.”

Mayor Comments

Blum said that he did not know all the details surrounding how the museum situation was handled and why museum board members never were notified, but he promised to look into the matter.

“The only thing I can do is ask what happened,” he said during the meeting, adding, “We lost a key piece of our community with that fire. The building had to come down immediately as a safety requirement. I don’t know who made that call, so I really can’t answer your questions, but I will find out.”

The mayor also said it would be up to the board of aldermen to release the lien placed on the property, and he welcomes museum board members to attend a meeting to make their feelings known.

“In my tenure as mayor, we’ve gone through a terrible recession that has affected everyone,” Blum said. “Everyone has needs, and resources here are not growing with those needs.

“It’s a complicated issue to address, but I do know that resources are not always there to take care of things we’re asked to do.

“We’re frugal with our money, and we don’t have the funds to demolish buildings at our own expense.”

Blum also reminded the board members and other volunteers at the meeting that the money the city has in its budget doesn’t belong to the city.

“It belongs to the taxpayers,” he said. “We’re accountable to them. And it’s up to the aldermen to decide how to best spend these funds.

“We also are responsible for public safety. That’s No. 1. And that public safety concern probably played a big part in this.”

Museum historian Sue Blesi said, “But we feel we should have been notified and not blindsided.”

Secretary Carla Wulfers had similar feelings.

“No one is in disagreement that nothing is free,” she said. “Our concern is the overall miscommunication, or lack of communication of any kind. Because of what happened and how it happened, we did not have the opportunity to meet or discuss our options.

“It’s a matter of notification. We never were notified. Now, all of a sudden, we find out from ‘out there’ that a lien has been put on the property.”

“And a 20-minute discussion would have prevented us from being upset,” Blesi said.

Blum then said, “I can’t argue with that.”

He then promised that he will get “to the bottom of it.”

Crowe told The Missourian on Thursday that Blum spoke to him about the situation following the museum meeting. Crowe said he is putting together information about how the situation was handled, including a time line and conversations he had with museum representatives. He said he will give it to Blum for review when it’s finished.