City Council files lawsuit against not-for-profit leader, who says she needs more time to fix properties

The city has filed a lawsuit against the owners of the 137-year-old Anna Brown House for failing to clean up the property. The home was gutted by fire on Aug. 16. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Mar. 19, 2013 12:17 am Updated: Apr. 2, 2013 1:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The leader of an area not-for-profit called on Quincy aldermen Monday night to drop the city's lawsuit over four partially completed renovation projects and the remains of the Anna Brown House.

The city filed suit Feb. 19 against Toni Hemming and Domestic Abuse Re-Lief for nuisance abatement at 418 S. Fifth, 533 Van Buren, 1615 N. Second and 614 Elm. Domestic Abuse Re-Lief seeks to provide permanent housing to victims of domestic violence.

The suit also was filed against Hemming and the Equity Trust Company, a South Dakota corporation that holds the title to the Anna Brown House, 1501 N. Fifth, for failure to clean up the property. The 137-year-old house was gutted by fire on Aug. 16. Hemming and her husband, Neal, had bought the property in Dec. 2011 and had planned to create apartments.

Hemming told the City Council that it has been difficult to find volunteers to help with the work. She said most of the time, the work is completed by herself, her husband, Neal, and a few other family members. She said she has also had medical issues that have made it difficult.

Some local contractors have offered to complete some of the work, but materials are needed.

"I am trying to do the best that I can with limited resources -- both financially and with volunteer help and lack of staff," Hemming said.

Hemming said that once women are released from a domestic abuse center, they typically don't have any place to go.

"We're trying to provide them a house that will be theirs," she said. "It's very much like Habitat for Humanity where people go through an application process, and if the family qualifies, they can purchase the home for very low amounts."

Hemming said she has lost all the money she has invested in the property.

"I just recently gotten some payment out of that, and unfortunately I didn't have enough coverage to cover my initial investment, let alone cleanup," she said. "So I'm going to have to do the cleanup myself."

The city is asking the court to require Hemming clear the debris from the Anna Brown House or allow the city to complete cleanup work. The city is seeking fines of up to $500 per day for violations on the property.

"I just don't think it's appropriate for my corporate time and money -- the little I have available to Domestic Abuse Re-Lief -- to spend on legal fees and time," Hemming said. "I'd rather sit down with aldermen and come up with an agreed plan on what is the first priority and so forth to make sure we can get it done in a time frame that everybody can be happy with."

Hemming said she had no previous contact with the city on the condition of the properties.

"I've had conversations with Planning and Development on things that they saw in the properties that they needed me to fix," she said. "As I got those, I went to those and tried to address them. I thought I was making sufficient progress to satisfy everyone, but the one mistake I probably made is I didn't communicate frequently enough to them on what exactly I was doing in what order."

Hemming said she is trying to complete the properties in stages.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Chris Scholz recommended that the City Council discuss the matter in closed session.

"I would discourage other members of the council from engaging in direct comment in open session this evening," he said.

Aldermen approved to add a closed session to the agenda at next week's meeting.