OAKDALE -- A long-running battle for control of the city's heritage ended up in court recently. The city sued the Oakdale Historical Society last month, demanding the Historical Society turn over $33,000 the society had collected from donors.
The Historical Society argued it collected the funds to build a home for the Haidlen Collection, an archive of oral histories and photos assembled years ago by local history buff Tim Haidlen.
The city says such a facility would be part of the city-owned Oakdale Museum so money collected for it belongs to the city, City Manager Steve Hallam said.
But Historical Society President Ralph Damante says the money for the Haidlen Collection "has nothing to do with the museum."
Earlier this week, the city and the Historical Society reached a tentative deal in the dispute, City Attorney Tom Hallinan said. The Historical Society agreed to turn over the funds, as long as the city earmarks the money for construction of a home for the Haidlen Collection.
The deal ends more than a year of back-and-forth between the city and the Historical Society. The city took legal action only after repeated attempts to recover the money went unanswered, Hallam said.
The Historical Society was reluctant to turn over the $33,000 because of fears that the city would misuse the money, Damante said.
"If the city is going broke, or they need funds, they're going to use it for whatever they need," he said. "What we don't want the city to do is to take that money and buy a week's salary for a police officer. We don't want them to pay the PG&E bill with it."
Society president satisfied with city
Hallam said there was never any danger of the money ending up in the city's general fund.
With the deal struck this week, Damante says he's satisfied the city will use the funds for their intended purpose.
The lawsuit marks another contentious chapter in the relationship between the city and the Historical Society.
For years, the volunteer-run Historical Society collected memorabilia for the city-owned museum with little oversight. While the Historical Society volunteers were a dedicated bunch, they had little formal training on how to maintain and inventory the items they collected, Hallam said.
About two years ago, city officials began investigating the museum's operations, a move that ruffled feathers among long- serving Historical Society members.
The inquiry included a review of the Historical Society's financial records. That's where city officials found $33,000 in an account called the Haidlen Memorial Fund.
The fund was established in 1989 after the death of Haidlen, said former Oakdale Museum Director Glenn Burghardt.
Burghardt described Haidlen as a "fanatic on history," who devoted years to interviewing Oakdale's old-timers and preserving their life stories in a searchable database. Haidlen also collected about 5,000 photos, Burghardt said.
"It is one of the most fabulous collections of any city in the United States," Burghardt said.
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2378.