Friday, September 14, 2007

Montgomery County PA Joins Barnes Fight

On September 12, 2007, Montgomery County (PA) formally joined the fight for reconsideration of the proposed move of the Barnes Foundation from that county and into Philadelphia County, by filing a petition for reconsideration, and holding a press conference to announce the filing.

This latest action by the Montco Commissioners demonstrates a renewed commitment to the role of the Barnes Foundation within Montgomery County.

It is a culmination of what the
Philadelphia Inquirer previously described in an article as an "about-face". See: "Montco's about-face on Barnes Museum", by Tom Infield (07/09/07).

It also follows efforts made in early August, 2007, by the Montco Commissioners to convince the Pennsylvania Attorney General to intervene in a manner consistent with the County's concerns. See: "Montco Seeks Out Attorney General Over Barnes Role", by Jim McCaffrey, published August 6, 2007, in The Bulletin (Philadelphia).

The Bulletin reported the latest development in an article published on September 13, 2007, entitled "Montco Petitions Barnes Move", by Bradley Vasoli, with the byline, "County Asks For Renewed Consideration To Keep Famed Art Collection At Its Current Home".
Montgomery County yesterday filed a new Orphans' Court petition to thwart the attempt by the state and the Barnes Foundation's Board of Trustees to move the renowned art collection from its current home in Merion to Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

Montgomery County Deputy Solicitor Carolyn T. Carluccio asked the court to give renewed consideration to a plan whereby the county would purchase the property currently housing the Barnes on North Latch's Lane in Merion and lease it back to the foundation. The county asserts that the art collection's board is on rickety legal ground attempting to move its site to Philadelphia from the property on which it was built in 1923 and on which founder Albert Barnes wished it to remain.

Carluccio asserted that the county's standing to petition the Court of Common Pleas to rule on this matter derives in part from the economic loss the area stands to suffer if it loses one of its most celebrated destinations.

"We stand to lose a world-renowned collection of art," she said. "We have an immediate threat of a negative economic impact." Montgomery County's Board of Commissioners and other area lawmakers shared her concern. * * *

Thus, Barnes' wish, specified in an official trust, to leave the Barnes in its current location should be honored, the petition said.

"It is axiomatic that if conditions dictate diverting from the language of a trust or the intent of the grantor when financial circumstances will no longer allow the carrying out of a charitable trust, when circumstances again change in such manner to allow the grantor's intent to be carried out, the language of the trust should be followed and the trustee has the obligation to follow a course in accord with the grantor's wishes," the county argued. * * *
At the press conference (pictured above), Montgomery County Commissioners and Supervisors from Lower Merion Township were joined by Congressman Jim Gerlach. He has proposed giving federal status to the Barnes Museum as a national historic landmark, which would enable it to apply for federal arts support.

Montco's actions follow the prior initiation of reconsideration litigation by the Friends of the Barnes Foundation. See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting
"Petition Filed for Reconsideration of Barnes Relocation" (08/28/07).

As of this date, this development inserting Montgomery County into the dispute was not noted on the websites of the County of Montgomery, the Friends of the Barnes Foundation, or the Barnes Foundation.

The proceedings to be held in the courtroom of the Orphans' Court Division, of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, likely will be followed widely by persons interested in philanthropy, art, museums, charitable foundations, economic development, trust law, and politics.

Update: 09/15/07:

For a totally contrary & very critical view of the position taken by Montgomery County in the Barnes Foundation matter, read the commentary by Jack B. Siegel, entitled "
Montgomery County Lacks Standing When It Comes to the Barnes Foundation" (09/14/07), posted on the Charity Governance Consulting Blog. He is the author of A Desktop Guide for Nonprofit Directors, Officers, and Advisors: Avoiding Trouble While Doing Good (April, 2006), published by John Wiley & Son, Inc.

Update: 05/19/08:

On May 15, 2008, the
Orphans' Court Division, of the Montgomery County (PA) Court of Common Pleas, per Judge Stanley R. Ott, issued a Memorandum Opinion (8 pages) that denied "standing" to the Friends of the Barnes Foundation and the County of Montgomery in the litigation referenced as The Barnes Foundation -- Petitions to Reopen Proceedings.

PA EE&F Law Blog posting
"No Standing" for Barnes Foundation Petitioners (05/19/08).