The trustees got much more than they bargained for when they moved earlier this year to sell Pendleton King Park out from under Augusta for a housing development.
They brought forth not only the wrath and incredulity of the community, but the pointed scrutiny of the courts.
Even the beneficent Pendleton King Park Foundation, founded half a century ago to help maintain and beautify the 64-acre oasis in the heart of Augusta, has gone to court to file a lien against the property in an attempt to prevent its sale to Winchester Homebuilders by two of the three trustees.
More ominously for the trustees, District Attorney Natalie Paine has filed a 10-page petition for a court injunction blocking the $1.2 million sale, and declaring the park inviolate “in perpetuity” – which was unambiguously the intention in Henry Barclay King’s will.
Paine is also demanding from the trustees “a full accounting of all assets, income and expenses of the King Trust” – as well as the filing in Probate Court of any of the trust’s overdue, unfiled annual returns.
In addition, Probate Judge Harry B. James has set a hearing in the matter for next month.
“It’s unclear when any of the park’s three trustees last filed a return with the probate court, which has prompted James’ action,” a Chronicle news story reported.
“After reading what I’ve read in the papers and having my staff do a little research, I found there are some questions that need to be answered,” the judge said.
The good news in all this – besides the light that has been shined on the trust’s activities, and the community action it has stirred – is that at least one of the three park trustees welcomes the court action.
“We agree with the prayers for relief that Natalie Paine has made, and we look forward to the issues being resolved,” trustee Mary L. Speir said through her attorney, Joe Rhodes.
Speir has said she was not involved in the decision to sell the park for development.
More good news: A second of the three trustees, Queensborough National Bank, is clearly backing off its support for the sale and is working diligently to negotiate an agreement that would keep Pendleton King a park in perpetuity. All three trustees – including the third one, Clarence Barinowski – have signed a month-to-month lease with the city to keep the park protected until the matter is closed.
But it’s clear that, thanks to Paine and the probate judge and perhaps the foundation, the courts will bring needed scrutiny to a proposed sale that would’ve forever scarred one of Augusta’s most treasured spans of greenspace – a place where countless folks from multiple generations have gone to eat, play and celebrate with each other while communing with nature.
We’re not sure what the two trustees were thinking when they chose to sell off that huge chunk of Augusta life. But surely by now they realize how important such a place is to the heart of a community and to the soul of its people.
The community is going to great lengths to convey it.