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Civic Skinny

Who owns the furniture at Terrace Hill? Agency and mansion’s friends squabble.

3/5/2014

The state commission that oversees Terrace Hill and the nonprofit group that raises money for the governor’s mansion have parted ways.

It’s unclear who now owns and controls the valuable collection — art and furniture and artifacts — that the nonprofit group has collected, maintained and insured over the decades and that is in the public parts of the Victorian mansion where Gov. Terry Branstad and his wife live. It’s equally unclear what will happen to the bank accounts that the Terrace Hill Society Foundation controls.

It’s kind of a mess. More than kind of a mess, actually.

Terrace Hill was built by banker B.F. Allen in 1869, and when Allen got in financial trouble a few years later it was purchased by pioneer businessman F. M. Hubbell. He and his heirs lived there for decades, but in the 1970s the family deeded it to the state for use as a governor’s home. Bob Ray and his family moved into it in 1976. The Hubbells maintained a sentimental attachment to it, and Jim Hubbell — a great-great-grandson of F. M. Hubbell — was the president of the foundation until recently while a sister-in-law, Debbie Hubbell, is on the nine-member state commission.

The house, at 2300 Grand Avenue, is a national historic landmark, and everyone agrees it is a jewel, a tourist attraction and a spectacular place for both public and private events.

Each side seems to agree on the roles of the commission and the foundation. The commission is to “preserve, maintain, renovate, landscape and administer Terrace Hill.” The foundation “was formed for the express purpose of soliciting and acquiring financial support to provide resources, services and support for the restoration, preservation and improvement of the interior and exterior of the Terrace Hill buildings.”

But how those roles mesh is the issue.

The state commission thinks it should be able to approve everything from press releases to letters to donors, that it should have the right to sign off on any fundraising and membership plans, and that it should have to agree to how certain assets can be disposed — though the sides seem to agree on methods of any disposal of valuable art and artifacts. In effect, the state wants to exert some control over the private group without hindering its mission or effectiveness. A faction on the foundation board views that as an unreasonable “impingement on its sovereignty,” says a person who has watched all this unfold.

The two sides tried to reach an agreement for more than a year, since 2012, when two Terrace Hill supportive groups — the Terrace Hill Society and the Terrace Hill Foundation — merged to form the Terrace Hill Society Foundation. The three partners had signed off on a written agreement in 1996, but it expired in 2006 and nothing replaced it. Following the merger, both the state and the foundation wanted to come to a new agreement. Last September, a majority of the executive committee of the foundation agreed with the state on a proposed 28E agreement, but the foundation’s full board voted it down, 17 to 10. In a letter to Jim Hubbell, the commission said it was “extremely disappointed” after negotiating “for well over a year” and making “significant concessions.”

“A year’s worth of negotiations has left us farther apart than when we started,” the state commission’s chairwoman, Kay Runge, wrote in the letter.

Hubbell, who had voted for the agreement, responded on Nov. 5 by sending an edited version of the state proposal and urging that talks continue, according to documents obtained from the office of Attorney General Tom Miller. But the commission rejected that. “We went down that road for many months,” commission member Jerry Mathieson responded on behalf of the board. He closed by saying: “If the Society Foundation decides not to sign the [original] agreement, the Commission will take the very difficult and painful step of severing its relationship with the Society Foundation.”

And that’s what it did.

At that point, Hubbell resigned. Some others have since followed.

Late last year, Runge sent supporters a letter saying she was “deeply sadden (sic) to report” that the partnership was over. She cited the state’s need for “the processes and transparency necessary when a private entity is raising funds from the public in behalf of a state agency.” (Aside: Runge is the former chair of Iowa Public Radio, where a state court ruled her board didn’t comply with the Iowa Open Meetings Law at least twice while making key decisions. Her embrace of “transparency” is akin to Bob Vander Plaats embracing gay marriage.)

Runge told supporters that the Terrace Hill Commission “plans to move quickly in establishing a new fundraising organization, and we will be in touch with you when that happens.” So far, it apparently hasn’t happened.

Hubbell was succeeded as president of the foundation by Martha Rasmussen, a Fairfield city-council member long active in state and community issues and long a supporter of Terrace Hill. Ten days ago, she sent a letter to board members. It indicates a major disagreement with the commission was about the process for “terminating the relationship between the commission and the [foundation] due to a breach of the agreement by either party.”

Rasmussen, who says she voted “no” on the original 28E agreement, held out hope for reaching an accommodation with the state. “I am making every effort to resolve this impasse,” she wrote board members. She also took a swipe at the commission, saying the state’s proposed agreement “did not reflect the decades of cooperation between [the private groups] and the State of Iowa.” She told Cityview that Matt Hinch, Gov. Branstad’s chief of staff, is working to help find an agreement — as did his predecessor, Jeff Boeyink.

Asked last week who now controls the millions of dollars of art and property raised for Terrace Hill over the years by the private groups and who controls the Foundation’s bank accounts, Geoff Greenwood, the spokesman for Attorney General Miller, said the foundation controls the funds it raised from the public to benefit Terrace Hill. “It is the Commission’s position,” he added, “that the property at Terrace Hill is under state control.” Foundation people believe otherwise. …

What’s going on at Dahl’s? The shelves aren’t as packed as they were, some distributors are grumbling that the company is slow in paying and some customer services have been eliminated. One big supplier told Cityview he expected Dahl’s to make “some kind of announcement” any day.

Last year, the company sold the real-estate of three stores — the ones on Ingersoll, Beaver and Fleur — for around $20 million, and in mid-2011 it changed suppliers, dropping Supervalu and going with Associated Wholesale Grocers of Kansas City, Kan. Among the rumors is one that Price Choppers, an AWG-affiliated chain in Missouri and Kansas, is going to take over Dahl’s and change to the Price Choppers name. …

Academic freedom, 2014: At the Board of Regents meeting Friday, University of Iowa President Sally Mason said executive director Bob Donley had instructed her earlier in the week not to contact any Regent before Friday’s meeting. CV

 

COMMENT: TOLEDO

Let me see if I have this right:

A teenage girl at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo was beaten for 11 minutes by a worker at the facility.

The beating was caught on a surveillance tape.

The Des Moines Register, which has done a great job in covering the whole mess in Toledo, wanted to see the tape.

The Department of Human Services and the office of Attorney General Tom Miller said no.

The Register went to the newly created Iowa Public Information Board.

The board last week turned down the Register’s request on a 6-3 vote.

The tape, the board ruled, can be kept confidential because the tape is a medical record, a record of a person receiving treatment.

Fact: Child abuse in Iowa is a crime, either an aggravated misdemeanor or a felony.

New fact: Unless the abuse is from a state counsellor.

Then it’s medical treatment.

Geeezzzz. CV

— Michael Gartner

Barmuda