The Time of Trial in Juneau

I am going to write this from memory.  When I find some documentation, I may fine tune the article.

Many people in Juneau wanted to keep the capital in Juneau. There was even a vote to move it to the Anchorage Area, where one-half of the population resided.  But skillful politicians forced another vote on the “cost” of establishing a new capital and that vote was defeated, so the capital move was and is dead for awhile. Under the leadership of some recent governors, many of the functions of government have been moved to Anchorage. Sarah Palin even lived at her home in Wasilla while she was governor, with one exception: she was in Juneau when the legislature was in session. You may have heard of Sarah, she is the person who said she could see Russia from her home, which some how made her an expert on foreign affairs. I have seen Russia (from St. Lawrence Island) and I don’t know the first thing about foreign affairs.

One idea for keeping the capital in Juneau was making heavy investment into buildings. Part of that package was a new court house building and the site picked was the 1/2 block where Juneau Methodist Church had been since 1904. So in the 1970’s, the State of Alaska, using imminent domain, offered us $120,000 for the building and land. As a congregation, we rolled over on the main issue. We decided to fight the price. They used a method of depreciation that made the educational building (formerly parsonage and now Juneau Youth Hostel in the summer time) worth about $4,000.  On the open market, it would have sold for at least $60,000 at that time. That will help you to understand why we got a lawyer as soon as possible.  His name was Dick Folta.

Many members of our church were concerned that if we fought the action, we would be seen as encouraging those who wanted to move the capital. I later learned that if we had stalled, the legislators might have been on our side as far as keeping the building is concerned. I was not informed enough to know that when it would have counted. The deed was done.

We did several things at the same time:

-Started sorting 70 years of paperwork.

-Reflected on what we would do next: build new elsewhere with a massive debt, merge with Douglas Community United Methodist Church or merge with Northern Light United Church.  (this story will be told elsewhere in detail)

-Filed a protest over the price and prepared to go to trial.

Bottom line:  we got 50% more and because of that, the State of Alaska had to pay our $30,000 in legal fees, that included an expert on property values from Iowa.

In the course of the trial, the lawyer for the State of Alaska saw fit to call me a liar while I was on the witness stand. Some mole in the church had given him information that he felt contradicted what I was saying. He had been informed that we were going to tear down the building and rebuilt. The truth was that this had been discussed and we decided not to do what he was accusing us of. However, when a church decides “NOT” to do something, there may not be a paper trial. You just stop having meetings on the subject. And that is what we did.

Bad move on the part of the lawyer. The judge bristled when I was called a liar. The judge was not a member of our church, but he attended from time to time. I didn’t point that out and the State of Alaska and the mole probably didn’t even know it. He was a very good judge, so we were comfortable with him.

Now I mentioned earlier that I had been sorting paperwork for weeks, if not months. Out of all the minutes and reports, I just happened to have in my suit pocked one piece of paper, a letter from the Governor of the State of Alaska promising that we would be able to stay at that spot for a long, long time. It was what tipped the scales to stay put in the older buildings. I was able to prove that I was telling the truth. The letter was submitted as exhibit whatever. Now when people talk about a “guiding hand” in life, that is my best example. Why, of all things, did I have that letter in my pocket when I had no idea what direction the attorney would be going?

That lawyer learned a lesson, but I don’t know if it helped him in the future. I felt he was mean to me! But I left the witness stand with a smile on my face.

Then I had to work with United Methodist officials in New York City who wanted control of the $180,000.  Some at Douglas Community United Methodist Church wanted a cut of the pie. Some one in New York made the mistake of putting in writing that we could keep the money if we reinvested it into property. I don’t know how many hours or days it took for me to invest the money in the Whitehead House, but it was not very many. One thought was to use it as a parsonage, but that never happened. The closet in the master bedroom was lined with cedar wood. At one time it was the nicest home in Juneau. We did use it for the Juneau Youth Hostel and they eventually reimbursed the church for those funds, but long after New York felt they had any claim to it. Sadly, city officials made the Youth Hostel remove the cedar wood because of fire codes. The wood was saved, but I do not know its final fate.

And no, I didn’t have any training in seminary about how to deal with difficult lawyers or difficult church bureaucrats. Perhaps the way I handled it explains why I was not on their “A” list.  I have missed a lot of “A” lists.

But the day the judge made his decision was a very happy day.


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