County not in contempt for halting Memorial Home funding

Responsibility for the maintenance of, and improvements to, the Memorial Home has been a longstanding point of contention between city and county governments. Tony Walters | Pharos-Tribune

A Logansport World War I memorial dedicated in 1922 — known as the Memorial Home — has been the center of a lawsuit between a concerned citizen and local government officials.

In resolving the case, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled partially for both parties on Friday.

Jim Brugh, a Logansport-based attorney, first filed a lawsuit against the Cass County Commissioners and then-Logansport Mayor Ted Franklin in 2014 in Cass Superior Court 1 after the county transferred ownership of the Memorial Home to the city.

His initial suit resulted in an agreed judgement between the parties. But he filed a petition for enforcement of the agreement two years later arguing the parties had yet to comply.

Brugh ramped his lawsuit back up again in May 2018, accusing Cass County of not holding up its end of the court order, calling for the order to be enforced and that the Cass County Council be found in contempt.

Brugh alleged Cass County Council should be found in contempt due to its refusal to commit $62,500 toward improvements for the Memorial Home as part of a second grant application. Brugh’s petition was denied and the County Council was not found to be in contempt, despite his argument that the council engaged in contemptuous conduct by its refusal to fund the building as part of an application for a federal Community Development Block Grant.

Attorneys for the county and city of Logansport responded with motions to dismiss.

“I presumed that the county would take on at least half of that responsibility pursuant to the agreed order, which is the order signed by the judge, the city, the county, and myself,” explained Brugh.

Brugh appealed the decision, arguing the Cass Superior Court failed to enforce the agreed-upon judgement as written and abused its discretion in not finding the County Council in contempt.

The Indiana Court of Appeals partially reversed the trial court’s decision on Friday, finding the city had not complied with a section of the judgment holding that it would execute a deed of dedication transferring the memorial jointly to itself and the county, expressly referring to its dedication and preservation as a war memorial pursuant to Indiana Code 10-18-4-2(b)(3) and 10-18-4-12.

The appellate court rejected the argument that the agreed judgement required the city and County Council to include in its operating agreement a detailed plan for maintenance, repair and improvement of the memorial.

“The 2017 Updated Plan, which was privately funded, indicates that improvements to the Memorial Home could cost upwards of $2 million. While they continue to fund maintenance of the Memorial Home, it is within the city and county’s discretion, with input from the board [of trustees], to determine how, when, and in what amount costly improvements will be made,” wrote Judge Robert Altice. “We have no authority, nor does Brugh, to require the city and county to each allocate $1 million toward rehabilitation of the Memorial Home, which is essentially what Brugh desires.”

The appellate court concluded by noting that Brugh had failed to establish contempt, agreeing with the trial court that the County Council acted within its authority as the fiscal branch of county government by instead choosing to fund the expansion of the county jail.

Regarding the future of the war memorial, Brugh indicated that he does not think the county will step up.

“While judges assume that the county will step up, I do not,” said Brugh. “In fact, the county most recently has petitioned for the sale by partition of Memorial Home, like heirs fighting over farmland. Time will tell – for now, the doors to this public facility remain closed.”

According to Logansport Mayor Dave Kitchell, the city has been in talks with a Noblesville developer to repurpose the Memorial Home into a destination event center.

Reach Quentin Blount at quentin.blount@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5130.

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