On Friday, the American Legion Post 163, of Neosho, plans to file a lawsuit against the City of Neosho alleging breach of contract regarding ownership of the city's building at 211 W. Brook Street.
The legion points to a 2004 agreement between their organization and the City of Neosho, which gave the legion post use of the city court building at 211 W. Brook Street, with the promise of future ownership.
Now, more than eight years after the agreement was made, the legion post meets in the building but does not own it, while the city continues to use parts of the facility for storage and other law enforcement purposes.
"They use a garage there, they're using the building as storage for the police department and part of the building is being used as storage for evidence," said legion post commander Roger Wilson.
Neosho City Attorney Steve Hays could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, though when he spoke with the Daily News about the issue in August 2012, he noted that the wording in the 2004 agreement states ownership of the building would be conveyed to the legion, "upon full and complete transfer of police and court functions."
On Wednesday, Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson said he had a similar understanding of the agreement, and said the city is not yet finished with the building.
"The agreement says that when functions cease in the building that it would be transferred to the legion," Davidson said. "But we still have evidence storage there, we still have document storage there, the evidence storage is a secured storage area used to prosecute crimes that are pending in Neosho. If the city had somewhere to go with it and had the space, we certainly would. But until we're done with what we need to do in that building, we can't release the entire building to the legion."
The agreement in question, dated Dec. 22, 2004, was signed by then-mayor Howard Birdsong and then-legion commander William Smith, and gave the legion post use of the city court building with promise of future ownership in exchange for a transfer of interest by quit claim deed on the former Army National Guard Armory building at 202 W. Brook St.
While the state had transferred the former armory to the city, the legion held an easement on the property. The city later traded the building to Newton County, and it now serves as the county's Emergency Management and 911 Central Dispatch Center.
"We owned the easement and the state was going to sign the armory over to us when they closed it," Wilson said. "Then, this came up at that time and they signed it over to the city and the city signed it over to the county. We've been left out."
Wilson said as part of the trade, the legion was to gain ownership of the 211 W. Brook Street property.
Page 2 of 2 - Wilson says the facility is now falling behind on maintenance and went for some time without any heat, air conditioning or running water.
"We didn't have any heat all winter, we didn't have any air conditioning in the summer last year, it's out completely," Wilson said. "We finally did get one restroom after some badgering by the adjutant to get it done, they did get the water turned on to one bathroom for us."
Davidson said he is not familiar with the maintenance situation at the building, though he noted that the city would continue to work toward pulling out of the facility.
"If we pulled out we've got to have somewhere to go with it, the biggest issue relates to the secure storage of evidence," Davidson said. " I've personally spoken with [Police] Chief [David] McCracken in the past about it, there is no easy solution there. We're continuing to find ways to resolve it and eventually we'll not need to have items stored in that building but until that happens and we continue to need it, we can't relinquish entire control of that building over to the legion."
Wilson said the legion post is being represented by local attorney Patricia Loveland, who is representing the group free of charge. He said he plans to review the suit today, and plans are to file on Friday.
Loveland could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Wilson said the legion post had hoped to avoid taking legal action, but has run out of options.
"The reason it has not happened before is we have not wanted to file a suit against the city, it's something we've wanted to avoid and they kept putting us off ," Wilson said. "We just want what's ours. We've been real patient, we've been real generous, we just want what we should have. We just want to have something we can fix up and call our legion home and not have to worry about it."