By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
A fight to be the authority on preserving the history of Peoria has gone public.
Two groups are claiming to be the official Peoria Arizona Historical Society, and members from each side
form the lineages of some of the oldest families in the city — families that took root long before Peoria was incorporated.
Both say that the other participated in a hostile take-over of the society.
The society splintered after disputes over items allegedly stolen from the museum and other in-fighting.
PAHS is tasked with controlling the day-to-day operations of the museum in Old Town, but the city has intervened until the two groups work out their differences.
The five-building museum includes the Peoria Jail House, constructed as a Works Progress Administration project in 1939. Since its construction, it has served as a local jail, accommodated City Council meetings and has served as the office for the Peoria Chamber of Commerce.
“The city owns the buildings and leases the buildings to the PAHS to operate, and has secured its property until such time the Peoria Historical Society decides on its leadership,” spokeswoman Kristina Perez said in a statement emailed to the Peoria Today. “The city is not involved with what’s going on in the historical society.”
After a year of in-fighting, the two groups have emerged, recently voting their own board of directors.
Group A called a meeting May 31 electing President Kevin Kosier, Vice President Erik McMorrow, Secretary Geri Fair and Treasurer Karen Garbe. The vote also included the election of seven board members.
Agenda items approved included removing old board members and adding the new members to PAHS
bank accounts and post office boxes, as well as removing Betty Osborne as statutory agent of the nonprofit.
Group B called a meeting June 22, to elect their own board of directors, President Bill Bercu, Vice President James Austin and Secretary Janet Gilsdorf, as well as eight board members, according to the meeting’s minutes.
The Peoria Arizona Historical Soicety has been in existence for a number of decades but it was incorporated with the state in 1994.
Betty Osborne, statutory agent and one of the original incorporators, said Group B is the rightful historical society because the members of the opposing group are not sanctioned members. They mailed in dues to a post office box not listed with the state by the historical society, and their votes were not entered into record by the sanctioned secretary, Ms. Gilsdorf.
“They elected themselves, but they don’t belong to the historical society,” she said.
Kathy Montoya-Moore, who helped conduct the June 22 meeting and is listed as the treasurer on the Arizona Corporation Commission’s website, said Group A is the imposter, with no forms to back them up as a proper 501(c)(3) nonprofit and that group B is the rightful nonprofit. On May 18, she filed the historical society’s annual report and certificate of disclosure, a move proving the validity of her group, she said.
She also said she is in the process of listing the members elected on June 22 to the Arizona Corporation Commission’s website.
“They don’t have any type of backing that they are a 501(c)(3), and they are using our name,” she said. “We are the ones who own the 501(c)(3).”
Mr. Bercu said he has begun a dialogue with Mr. Kosier, but is willing to contest the validity of the opposing group’s claim to be a nonprofit.
Most recently, group B held a public meeting July 20 to create a plan of action moving forward.
The group approved to have monthly meetings held at 6:15 p.m. every third Thursday of the month and to write a letter to the city requesting museum artifacts be protected and not given away or sold.
Ms. Montoya-Moore said other members of the historical society have unlawfully taken items from the museum and wants the city, the acting landlord of the buildings, to protect them.
She countered accusations that her group hi-jacked the society, saying that the museum was open from October to December of 2016 and a meeting was held last year in which a new board was nominated. A new board was nominated, according to minutes for the Aug. 6 2016 meeting. However, the group’s articles of incorporation state annual elections are to be held in April.
“(Former president) Loretta Barmes and Kevin Kosier and others were at that meeting. They were invited, not like Loretta said in the previous (Peoria Today) article,” Ms. Montoya-Moore said. “We’re not trying to damn the other side, but we want to bring to light that we are the real historical society. And now we are speaking out about it.”
Members of group A did not respond by press time for interview requests.