County, museum in gunfight over rights

Officials consider signing agreement regarding gunfighter collection ownership

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Ownership of the Cowboy Gunfighter Collection at the Museum of Northwest Colorado has come down to a duel between the Museum Foundation and Moffat County.

County commissioners, County Attorney Tom Thornberry, Museum Director Dan Davidson and some Museum Foundation Board members attended the Board of Commissioners meeting on Jan 31. Discussion centered around a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or lack of one between the Museum Foundation and Moffat County.

Before the collection was acquired, the Museum Foundation wanted to purchase the collection from private owner Bill Mackin, but didn't have the funds. Rather than the collection being sold to someone outside Moffat County, commissioners provided the $750,000 to purchase it. The Museum Foundation agreed to make payments to the county, allowing the county the option to foreclose on the collection if the foundation could not make payments. Ownership of the collection would then be signed over to the county after 10 years.

The deal moved faster than paperwork could and the agreement was committed verbally between the county and the Museum Foundation at the time of the purchase.

At the meeting Jan. 31, Thornberry presented a draft of an MOU he had written on behalf of the county but not circulated. The MOU was supposed to put the agreement between the county and Museum Foundation on paper. The agreement between the two was never in writing before the purchase because, according to Museum Foundation members, things had to move fast during negotiations with Mackin.

Thornberry explained that the reason he kept the original draft from circulating was ownership.

"The last presentation we got from the foundation was that they needed to own it and I don't know how we got there," said Thornberry.

The problem is the commissioners now want to control the location of the collection. Commissioners and Thornberry stated they were interested in having some sort of veto power over where the collection may tour because they believe the people who have donated money are under the impression it will always stay in Moffat County.

"People who have willed or given property to us want it to be at the Moffat County museum," said Thornberry.

At the Museum Foundation Board meeting Thursday, board members reviewed the most recent proposed MOU that Thornberry drafted after the Board of Commissioners meeting. The key in the discussion is ownership.

Pam Foster, chairman of the Museum Foundation, explained the situation to board members who couldn't attend the commissioners' meeting.

"What happened at that meeting was we sort of got a little bit blind-sided by the fact that Tom (Thornberry) brought a draft that none of us had seen," said Foster. "Ever since the beginning of time we have said when the Foundation buys this collection we really wanted it to be like buying a car so that we're buying a car with a debt with the county being the creditors so that the Foundation indeed would own the collection. One of my proposals would be that we attempt to keep this, just a simple buyout agreement and then we work out a second deal having to deal with the policy of the museum."

According to Foster, the two separate agreements would simplify the relationship between the Museum Foundation and the Board of Commissioners and the agreements would decide who has control over where the collection tours, if at all, in the future.

Foster believes it is critical for the Museum Foundation to have assets, such as the Gunfighter Collection.

"Having assets is critical to getting people to donate to a foundation," said Foster. "By having assets they show that they are indeed successful and indeed they are handling their finances well."

Museum Foundation Board member Darrell Camilletti wants to determine whether the commissioners want to own the collection or if there is some type of miscommunication or mistrust between the two groups.

"The one issue that has got to be resolved before anything is going to happen is the ownership issue," said Camilletti. "It appears to me that the county wants to own this collection. The board is going to have to sit down with the commissioners and determine who is going to own the collection."

Some of the board members said the Foundation needs to be cautious about allowing the commissioners to have too much of a say in Foundation business. Board member Jim Meineke believes the commissioners would not have been able to purchase the collection without the help of the Foundation and it is possible the collection would have left the area.

"Had not this Foundation been set up, you would have never gotten donations by the people to fund the purchase of this collection because people will not give to a county government," said Meineke. "They give through taxes and other sources. People give money to foundations and organizations. A foundation is a needed, viable organization that needs a body to operate in and not be under the county commissioners."

The Foundation Board will attempt to set up a meeting with the Board of Commissioners to determine if the commissioners want full ownership of the collection and explain what the foundation is attempting to do by the purchasing the collection.

Foundation members say that an uninterrupted presentation to the commissioners and Thornberry will clear up some of the confusion and they can start to put together an agreement or agreements where both parties are satisfied. There was also discussion of hiring an attorney to help.

According to Commissioner Joe Janosec, the Board of Commissioners is waiting to review the second copy of the MOU between the county and Museum Foundation.

"We are waiting for Tom (Thornberry) to get an MOU for us," said Janosec. "We want to make it clear who owns it."

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