Havre Daily News
Havre City Council member Emily Mayer Lossing filed a complaint with the Hill County Sheriff's Office on Saturday alleging that Havre Mayor Bob Rice and city crews had stolen historic lampposts, which were the property of the H. Earl Clack Museum, from behind the Heritage Center.
Rice and museum board chairman Ron VandenBoom said Monday the items were removed because of a misunderstanding and that the museum board voted last week to let the city have them. They have since been returned.
Mayer Lossing said she disagreed with the museum board's decision.
She said she filed the complaint "on behalf of people who genuinely give a damn about our history."
"I am really angry over this issue," Mayer Lossing said. "I have worked extremely hard for this. It's unfathomable for this to have happened. Only cold-hearted people would do this."
The lampposts, which date back to the early 20th century, were donated to the museum by Elinor and Louis Clack, said Mayer Lossing, who is a former manager of the museum. Louis Clack died April 10.
Rice said city workers removed the lampposts two weeks ago and took them to the city shop with the intent of cleaning them up and placing them at the entrance of a planned walking path along Bullhook Dike at the south end of town. Workers had sandblasted them and added a coat of primer.
VandenBoom said he had told Rice that the mayor could do whatever he wanted with items in the Heritage Center that were left behind when the museum moved out of the building in November. The city had evicted the museum and other tenants of the city-owned building after the Clack Foundation turned operation of the building back to the city.
VandenBoom said the agreement did not extend to any items outside of the building, but that Rice misunderstood him.
"I told him that whatever was left, he could do what he wanted to it," VandenBoom said. "He took that to mean anything that was outside of the building as well. Technically speaking, they were never stolen."
Rice said he thought VandenBoom's comments included the lampposts, which were located underneath the caboose behind the Heritage Center.
VandenBoom said the board met on April 11 and voted to release the lampposts from the collection and have Rice sign a document stating he had taken possession of the property.
"There was quite a bit of discussion on the issue and there was some unhappiness on the part of the board, but the decision was made," he said.
Board members said at the meeting they did not want the lampposts back because they had been modified, board vice chair Val Hickman said.
"People were disappointed in what had happened, but it did just seem like a big misunderstanding," she said. "We didn't feel that it was worth making a huge commotion over." She added that she didn't think the lampposts were "stolen."
Mayer Lossing said Rice should have called the museum manager, museum board members, foundation members or Hill County commissioners to clarify whether he was able to take the lampposts before he did so.
"This could have all been avoided if someone had picked up the telephone and asked a few questions," she said.
Rice said he wished Mayer Lossing had contacted him before she got law enforcement involved.
He said he returned the lampposts on Sunday morning because the city decided they couldn't be used on the walking path.
"There are too many parts missing on them," he said.
Rice said he made the decision last week to return them to the museum. He said he spoke with VandenBoom, who told him Elinor Clack didn't feel the museum should have given the lampposts up. Because of the recent death of Louis Clack, Rice said, he didn't feel it was appropriate to pursue the matter any further.
VandenBoom said Mayer Lossing, who is no longer affiliated with the museum, should not have filed the complaint.
"Technically, I would have been the one to file charges on our property," he said. "We have people out there trying to take responsibility that have no right or ability to do so. I don't understand how anyone that does not own property can report it stolen.
"We're going to try to get this straightened out. I did not want this to get blown out of proportion as an attack on the mayor by the museum board," VandenBoom said.
Hill County Undersheriff Don Brostrom said today the incident is under investigation.
Mayer Lossing said she felt it was her duty to report the incident. She also stated that she was not sure if the museum board had taken the proper procedure to release the items to Rice. There is a form that must be filled out and submitted to the Hill County commissioners, she said.
She added that she has heard positive comments from comunity members who supported her move to keep the lampposts a part of the museum. She wondered if the museum board would have reacted differently if someone else had taken them.
Museum board member Lou Lucke said he was not aware that Mayer Lossing had filed a complaint but agreed that the lampposts should not have been taken.
He added, "I thought it was a mistake to de-accession the items and give them to the mayor."
He said the modifications have done irreversible damage to the lampposts.
"That totally destroys an item that is obviously a museum artifact," he said.
Mayer Lossing said the city was planning on further modifying the lampposts by cutting them, but Rice said he never considered that.
"Absolutely not," he said. "That would be ludicrous."
The complaint is the second filed by a member of the Lossing family against Rice this year. On Jan. 6, Mayer Lossing's husband, Lyle Lossing, filed a complaint with the Hill County Sheriff's Office alleging that Rice and one of his sons assaulted him by coercion, intimidation or threat during a verbal confrontation at the Holiday Village Shopping Center. Rice denied that he had verbally assaulted Lossing. Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson later decided not to file charges.