KEYSER - An attorney representing the Mineral County Historical Foundation told the Keyser City Council Wednesday that he doesn't want to go to court, but he is prepared to do it if the city does not repay those who donated money toward the restoration of the Alkire Mansion.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - An attorney representing the Mineral County Historical Foundation told the Keyser City Council Wednesday that he doesn’t want to go to court, but he is prepared to do it if the city does not repay those who donated money toward the restoration of the Alkire Mansion.
Jason Sites told the mayor and council Wednesday that he had drafted the letter presented to them by Historical Foundation vice president Frank Roleff during the council’s Aug. 28 meeting. In that letter, the foundation asked for the city to reimburse the individuals and organizations that made donations toward the renovation of the mansion now that the city has decided to put the building up for auction.
A large part of Wednesday’s discussion involved why the foundation even accepted donations above the $18,600 which the city originally put up for the work.
Roleff said the donations were made because the donors thought the mansion was going to be retained by the city and made available for use by the public.
“I’ve heard people say … they expected it was going to be some kind of a center for the city. I don’t ever remember that being discussed,” council member Terry Liller said.
“Our discussion was that it would be a community building … for anybody in the city or out of the city to come in and ask to be able to rent it,” Roleff said.
“Yes, that was discussed,” Liller replied. “But this community building … I never heard that term mentioned.”
Mayor Damon Tillman said the root of the problem was that the foundation assumed too much.
“Don’t you think it would have been smart to come to the council before you took money from the citizens and put into the building?” he asked Roleff.
“We made the assumption since you gave that ($18,600) to put into the mansion that you were going to retain the property,” Roleff said.
“You assumed,” Tillman countered. “But you didn’t come to the city and ask what their intentions were.
“If that would have happened the responsible way, we wouldn’t be in this position right here.
“I think your asking the city to reimburse you that kind of money for your assumption isn’t being fair to the city,” Tillman said.
“Well, that may be your opinion, but our opinion is because we were given the $18,600 that the city would continue to retain the building.”
“And again, that was an assumption,” Tillman said.
It was at that point that Sites stood up, explaining his take on the issue.
Using the term “unjust enrichment,” he said, “If the city so elects to sell it, they have been unjustly enriched to the tune of $10,994,” he said, adding, “You’re going to get a much higher price now because of monies you put in … and because of monies the citizens put in.
“They gave with the understanding of a community building … It’s not fair to those people for something contrary to happen. It just doesn’t square with fundamental fairness to not return their money to them.”
Sites suggested that the city go ahead and sell the mansion and take the $10,944 out of the proceeds in order to return it to the donors.
He said he feels the odds are in the foundation’s favor.
“I have a very good chance of prevailing (if a lawsuit is filed), and the sale will be held up should I have to file suit.”
Council member and finance commissioner Mike Ryan asked several times for a list of the donors, saying the council “would consider it.”
Tillman, however, told Sites something different.
“Here’s the bottom line: If you guys are wanting to threaten litigation or whatever, we’ll have our attorney contact you,” he said.