As promised, Mayor Ron Blum has gotten back with members of the St. Clair Historical Society regarding the process and time line relating to a lien placed on the local museum property after the building burned, was razed and debris removed.
The historical society conducted a special meeting on Tuesday night at the Old Bus Stop Cafe, and Blum presented the facts he gathered after doing research and visiting with city employees. Last Tuesday, June 10, the mayor was invited to attend the group’s regular monthly meeting after it was discovered the city had placed a nearly $8,000 lien on the museum property at 280 Hibbard St.
The museum and the majority of its contents burned in a two-alarm fire on Feb. 23. Museum President Carol Radford has said about 90 percent of items were destroyed. The lien was placed on the property in March after the city paid for razing and removal expenses.
The museum recently reopened in a temporary location next to St. Clair Health Mart Pharmacy, 855 N. Commercial Ave., after Health Mart owners Steve and Sue Linedemann donated the space for six months.
Information Blum presented on Tuesday disputes complaints made by historical society members about never being informed about the demolition and debris removal process. And, the mayor said he never was told why he was invited to last week’s meeting, so he had no idea coming in that members were upset.
The initial invitation Blum received from Radford confirms that.
“The St. Clair Historical Museum invites you to come to our next monthly meeting on 10 June 2014,” the invitation read. “We’ve enclosed a flier about the meeting. We would like to get your ideas on possible locations for a permanent home for the museum and on how we can better serve the greater St. Clair community.”
The letter contained no additional information.
Blum also said not knowing the purpose of the gathering failed to give him the opportunity to present the facts during that first meeting.
Radford had told The Missourian before that initial meeting that historical society members wanted Blum to attend so they could question him about the lien. During the meeting, they had some harsh words for the mayor and accused the city of poor business practices and a lack of communication.
One member even accused the city of “blindsiding” the museum.
That individual, Sue Blesi, used those words again this week.
The information Blum brought with him to the second meeting included detailed billing from the companies that handled the demolition of the old museum and the removal of items that took place a few days afterward. The city incurred costs from Progressive Waste Solutions of Missouri, Dace Excavating LLC, Spray Services Inc. and Precision Analysis.
“Let me tell you how the process works,” Blum told historical society members in attendance on Tuesday. “Decisions are made on information provided to us. In this instance, it was a public safety matter. The building had to come down because it was a safety hazard. And it wasn’t feasible to have volunteers go through the rubbish. That would have been dangerous. ...
“We think it all was done very professionally and economically.”
The mayor also explained why the lien was placed on the property.
“We have to do that to protect the taxpayers,” he said. “The (museum and land) is not taxpayer property nor is it the taxpayers’ responsibility. It’s just good business practice to do it that way.
“The city believes you knew there were going to be costs and expenses involved.”
Blum also said the city is not charging the historical society interest on the lien.
“Whatever it cost us, we relayed that cost to you,” he said.
Blum also emphasized that the city is trying to assist in getting the museum back on its feet.
“But we just needed information,” Todd said. “And you didn’t give it to us.
“(Telling us) would have been the ethical thing to do, Ron.”
Blum responded to those comments by saying, “Don’t make (Building Inspector) Jeremy (Crowe) and our city administrator (Rick Childers) look like people who don’t care,” he said. “We’re here to help, and we will do all we can to help you.”
Todd’s comments came on the heels of Radford and other museum members saying earlier that the city did not communicate with them after the fire.
“This just came out of the blue,” Radford had told The Missourian about the lien last week before the meeting. “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 Childers to museum volunteer Gib Hoffman on May 20, the lien amount totals $7,873.12, which is the cost for the cleanup process charged to the city after the fire plus some city fees.
“We didn’t know we were going to get this big bill,” Blesi said on Tuesday.
“It still goes back to the miscommunication aspect,” fellow member Carla Wulfers said. “I don’t think we would have been as upset if we knew it was coming.
“We know this has to be paid, and we know it’s not the city’s responsibility. We just wish we would have been told.”
At that point, Ward 2 Alderman Barb McGlenn, who accompanied Blum to Tuesday’s meeting, then addressed the historical society members.
“I think there were some assumptions made by both parties,” she said. “That happens. No one is at fault here. We just need to get this all taken care of.”
At that point, Todd agreed that the historical society should have been “more proactive.”
A report prepared by Crowe states that he talked to both Radford and Todd the day after the fire.
“I had talked to historical society members Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Radford both together and individually regarding the need to demo (demolish) the building due to its imminent danger of collapsing within the right of way,” Crowe wrote. “They were both in agreement that the building needed to be removed.
“I asked them if they had any insurance on the building and they informed me that they had none and the historical museum had no money within their checking or savings account for removal of the structure,” Crowe’s reports continues. “I informed Mrs. Radford that the city would go ahead and remove the structure, and we would try to set up an appointment to discuss reimbursement with city administration at a later point in time. Mrs. Radford had no objection.”
The museum had liability insurance on the building, but no other coverage.
Crowe then went on to say that he contacted Missouri Department of Natural Resources personnel regarding the emergency removal of the charred museum building as well as with approved asbestos abatement contractors regarding testing and oversight of the demolition and removal process.
The afternoon after the fire, the DNR granted emergency wet demolition of the structure.
“Due to the possibility of other asbestos contaminantes within the debris pile, the removal of the debris was performed by the local contractor hired for the demo with oversight by a certified abatement contractor to identify any potential asbestos-containing material,” Crowe said. “Prior to removal of the debris, I personally called Mrs. Radford and Mrs. Todd informing them of the date and time the debris was to be removed.
“The date the removal began, I do not recall anyone from the historical society present on site or the following day while I was present, nor was I contacted by anyone from the historical society on either day.”
The detailed 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.
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 eventually emailing him the lien paperwork, Radford said.