By Philip Haldiman
Peoria has said enough is enough.
The city has decided to remove itself from two feuding factions who claim to be the rightful Peoria Arizona Historical Society.
PAHS is tasked with controlling the day-to-day operations of the museum, located in Old Town Peoria. The artifacts within the museum are either owned by PAHS or have been loaned by residents and others.
The city has no authority over the society, but has leased the museum property to PAHS dating back to the 1990s, and intervened in May 2017, securing the buildings before the two groups became entangled in lawsuits.
Now the city is tired of waiting for the groups to their resolve differences — Council approved a plan to terminate the lease in six months unless they can settle their differences.
Additionally, the city is seeking assurances the artifacts in the museum will be accessible to the rightful owners and be properly inventoried and preserved.
City Manager Jeff Tyne said the parties have had an ongoing dispute for more than three years and the city offered to pay for a third party to arbitrate in January 2018. But one of the parties declined and the two parties filed law suits against each other in Maricopa County Superior Court shortly after.
The city does not see any resolution in sight and those city buildings cannot be used by the city or any of its residents as a result of the dispute, he said.
“Because of that dilemma there is uncertainty about whom the city should be conducting business with and there is confusion on who has rightful claims to the artifacts and documents stored within the buildings,” Mr. Tyne said.
At end of 180 days, if the two groups have not resolved their differences, the buildings will return back to the city with full control and the city will take the appropriate steps to return the artifacts to the rightful owners or make sure they are logged, inventoried and stored, officials said.
Councilwoman Vicki Hunt said she is a lifetime member of the society and close to a number of people on both sides of the issue. Because of this, she recused herself from any decisions on PAHS made by city council.
She said it breaks her heart to see the dispute over the last few years.
“The reality is that not only are the facilities unavailable to the residents, but the society itself is not active,” Ms. Hunt said. “In 2017, I did have an interest in seeing new individuals forming an active board. That said, I have not been involved in any city decision to lock the buildings.”
After more than a year of in-fighting, in 2017, the Peoria Arizona Historical Society splintered, with two groups emerging and voting in their own separate board of directors, and each claiming to be the official historical society.Allegations included unauthorized members attempting to access the nonprofit’s bank account, stolen artifacts and others.
Councilman Michael Finn said the city is not here to be the arbiter in a civil dispute.
“I feel we have been entangled in this because we carry the lease. But it is not something for this council to decide,” he said. “I can see the passion on both sides. I’ll be honest, I appreciate the passion on both sides. But I’m asking both parties to be passionate for the citizens of the city. Be passionate for the people who actually took some of their prized belongings and put them in either party’s possession. Do the right thing and in the next 180 days get this resolved. And get it resolved for the people who entrusted you. Please.”