City officials question ethics of Fulton mayor's plan for Drives Building

John Rohlf/Clinton HeraldJane Orman Luker speaks about the Drives Building at the Fulton City Council meeting Monday.

FULTON, Ill. — The feasibility of a proposal from Fulton Mayor Mike Ottens for a potential solution to preserve the Drives Building is being mulled by city officials and the Fulton Historical Society.

Ottens proposed that functions of the Martin House Museum be moved to the Drives Building museum within a specified time period, subject to the renovation schedule. The Martin House, as per the will of Maxine Martin, would revert to the Presbyterian Church.

Martin, who died in 1998, willed the house to the city of Fulton to be used as a museum/community center. If the city violates those terms, the house reverts to the church, according to a statement from Fulton City Attorney Bill Shirk.

The will also gives the city money for upkeep of the museum or community center. Whether that money goes with the house or stays with the city is in dispute.

In Ottens’ proposal, that money, which is around $275,000 to $300,000, would be given to the Historical Society for establishment of a museum and/or community center.

Kitchen equipment located in KT Fitness would be declared excess property and provided to the Drives Building, which Ottens believes will most likely require the best-use bid process.

"The proposal, or what I had stated was, going forward with the understanding the Historical Society buying the Drives Building and having a museum in there and then trying to maintain the museum up here seemed to me from both a funding point of view and a staffing point of view that that should all be consolidated by the Windmill where the tourists and the visitors come," Ottens said.

"And it's very convenient and everything's open, instead of the issue with the Martin House only on Sundays and limited time. I understand that," Otten said. "And I was also looking at what had been stated were the problems with the Martin House. And so it seemed to me that... if the funding and what (City Attorney) Bill (Shirk) had said if the endowment was able to be used for the establishment of a museum or community center that that would be the immediate cash infusion."

Neal Luker and Jane Orman Luker, who both represented the Fulton Historical Society, said the group's plan for the Drives Building did not include a museum. Neal Luker did not rule out having a room in the Drives Building but disputed having the Drives Building serve as a museum.

Orman Luker said Neal Luker informed Ottens years ago of problems with the interpretation of the Martin will, Martin House funds and how the Martin endowment was originally established.

"The Drives Historic Committee did not want the Drives Building to be a museum," Orman Luker said. "The committee that has taken this over does not want the Drives Building to be a museum," he said.

"The Historical Society picked up the renovation project after the Drives Historic Building Committee was dropped from the project. And after some of the people from the community stepped forward with different financial support," Orman Luker said. "So things changed. That's the reason that the Historical Society was able to step forward because financial situation changed. So right now the Historical Society can only respond to its bid of $10,500 for the property because that's the only authorization that we have."

Orman Luker said some Fulton Historical Society members believe the Martin House "beautifully displays the items in the house, in the setting, in the home, where people give guided tours under very watchful eyes." If the Martin House materials were to be moved to the Drives Building it would present significant security challenges, he said.

"Some members also believe that the Martins left their home and money to maintain it," Orman Luker said. "And that their gift of property and funds should be retained, obviously you've heard tonight, because of ethical reasons, and separation of the two should not occur.

"Some Society members wonder why destroy a beautiful and successful operation as the Martin House," Orman Luker said. "It has served its function well for years. Some members will ask if the Society doesn't accept the mayor's proposal as presented, does the Historical Society lose both the Martin House and the Drives Building?

"The Historical Society cannot respond to the mayor's current request without further input. That will be a challenge because many of the membership is spread across the country. And because many members also are enjoying the warmer climates at this time," Orman Luker said.

Alderman Sue Van Kampen said the city could save approximately $153,500 by accepting the bid from the Fulton Historical Society to purchase the building and rejecting the bid from Lohman Construction to demolish it. She said there are other needs the city could apply the funds to, including problems with city police vehicles.

"No taxpayers money will ever be used," Van Kampen said. "It will never ever come back to the city whatsoever. And I have all the faith in the world, when they do a job it's going to be done and it's going to be done right. But like I said we could take that money elsewhere. We could use it in a lot of places."

Fulton City Administrator Randy Boonstra said the city will have to seek bids for either the demolition or the sale of the Drives Building because the 60-day window for the demolition previously awarded to Lohman Construction has passed.

Ottens suggested the city get all eight council members at a meeting and decide again how to proceed with the Drives Building. He also suggested Neal Luker speak to the Fulton Historical Society membership.

Last month, during a special meeting, Fulton City Alderman Dan Nederhoff moved to accept the Fulton Historical Society’s bid of $10,500 to purchase the Drives Building. The motion failed, because the 5-4 vote in favor of the motion did not reach the 75 percent needed to approve the sale.

Aldermen Paul Banker, Barb Mask, Dan Nederhoff, Sue Van Kampen and Mike Van Zuiden supported the motion. Aldermen Margaret Crosthwaite, Eugene Field, Keith King and Mayor Mike Ottens voted against the motion.

The city awarded a contract for abatement and demolition of the Drives Building to low bidder Lohman Construction at $143,850. The council split 4-4 on the motion. Ottens broke the council’s tie, voting in favor of the demolition. Banker, Crosthwaite, Field, King and Ottens voted in favor of the motion. Mask, Nederhoff, Van Kampen and Van Zuiden voted against motion.