Museum Artifact Ownership Impasse: an Update 6/16/2020
In an effort to resolve the issue of ownership of museum artifacts that arose well over three years earlier between the Town of Mexico and the Mexico Historical Society, attorney Tim Fennell was retained by the Historical Society in 2019 to represent the society’s interests.
A meeting attended by both parties was held in Mr. Fennell’s office on November 19, 2019 to assess each faction’s position on the matter and to establish a starting point for negotiation. The Town of Mexico was represented by Supervisor David Anderson and Town Attorney Rebekah Prosachik, and Historical Society secretary Betty Green represented the society.
At the meeting, information regarding the history of the impasse and material supporting the stance of each organization was set forth both verbally and in documentation presented and exchanged.
It was agreed that no further action could be taken until a thorough comprehensive inventory was compiled of artifacts existing at the Mexico Museum building and the Starr Clark Underground Railroad Museum. It was stated that such an inventory exists for Tin Shop Museum artifacts. Mr. Anderson reported that records at the Mexico Museum were in such disarray that a complete inventory would need to be undertaken by a paid professional. Mr. Anderson stated that the Town would hire the appropriate agency and would conduct an inventory to fulfill its obligation. Once the inventory is completed, further negotiation could then ensue.
In the period of over six months since the meeting, virtually no communication has existed between the parties and nothing has transpired that would lead to a resolution.
In a phone call made in early June of this year to Mr. Fennell’s office, Betty Green left a message inquiring what would be needed on the part of the Historical Society to move the process forward. Mr. Fennell returned the call after speaking with the Town’s Attorney Ms. Prosachik. It appears that there is a “budget freeze” in existence that precludes any effort on the part of the Town to conduct the promised inventory. According to Mr. Fennell, a timely resolution is thus unlikely except through the avenue of a court trial.
Considering that a court trial could incur substantial expense, would entail additional time lost, and risks a potentially undesirable outcome, that avenue is less than appealing. An alternative that could result in an almost immediate resolution of the issue of ownership is suggested herein. With exceptions proposed by Treasurer Jim Hotchkiss as noted below, both parties would agree to sole ownership of the artifacts currently in their possession. Each entity would waive authority over artifacts and other items housed at the alternate location, and would disavow any further claims or actions against the other party. The Historical Society would insist on recovery and possession of a few artifacts where it can be shown that the donor clearly meant to benefit the Society as opposed to the Town of Mexico. Book shelves and similar fittings and fixtures for which the Society can produce proof of purchase must also be relinquished. As a further stipulation, the Society expects recovery of Historical Society records known to be in the Town’s custody.
A further consideration is disposition of artifacts in the event that either party is unable or unwilling to maintain its collection. It is suggested that an agreement be struck wherein the other party is offered first refusal on the acquisition of artifacts.
It is suggested that the Historical Society board be apprised of this alternative, and if deemed acceptable, that the Historical Society Treasurer be authorized to promptly compile the documentation supporting proof of the Society’s province over the disputed items. Mr. Fennell would then be authorized to approach the Town in the near-term with specific details of the Historical Society’s offer of resolution. Achieving a timely outcome is critical to preserving the delicate artifacts so critical in preserving our community's history.
September 1, 2020
Update on Historical Society and Town of Mexico Impasse
The issue of ownership of historical artifacts began in 2016. The Historical Society and Town of Mexico have been working to resolve this problem since then. In ongoing litigation and in an effort to resolve this impasse the Mexico Historical Society, in June of this year, presented the following proposal the the Town of Mexico. We have yet to hear from the Town of Mexico regarding this proposal.
The Mexico Historical Society and the Town of Mexico would agree to sole ownership of the artifacts currently in their possession. Each entity would waive authority over artifacts and other items housed at the alternate location, and would disavow any further claims or actions against the other party. Book shelves and similar fittings and fixtures for which the Society can produce proof of purchase must also be relinquished. As a further stipulation, the Society expects recovery of Historical Society records known to be in the Town’s custody.
A further consideration is disposition of artifacts, in the event that either party is unable or unwilling to maintain its collection. It is suggested that an agreement be struck wherein the other party is offered first refusal on the acquisition of artifacts.
Mexico Historical Society
Historical Society and Town of Mexico Dispute
3250 Main St., P O Box 331, Mexico, NY 13114 USA
Update on Historical Society and Town of Mexico Impasse
You may remenber that the Historical Society made a concession to the Town Of Mexico by offering to accept that the town owned those artifacts still in their possession and the Historical Society owned those artifacts in their possession (see September 1, 2020 update). The town claims to be working on their inventory of the artifacts kept at the building on S.Jefferson St. The Town has been "working" on the inventory since 2017 with no visible sign of completion. So we are still at an impasse.
The Historical Society continues to collect, preserve and restore the historical artifacts in their possession and continues to share with the public. Since the Historical Society does not have access to museum records prior to 2016, we encourage anyone who donated artifacts to the Historical Society (not the Town) prior to 2016, to please list the items donated and mail or email the list to Mexico Historical Society, P O Box 331, Mexico, NY 13114/email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.