Augusta, GA (WJBF)—The future of a local park still hangs in the balance.
Henry B. King left the land now known as Pendleton King Park in his will. Late last year, some of the trustees sparked disagreement when they announced they wanted to sell the 64 acres. Now, Richmond County’s probate court is looking to learn more about the trust and their records.
On Tuesday, we sent NewsChannel 6 reporter Ashley Osborne to Richmond County’s Probate Court for a hearing about the trust. The judge wanted to sort out some issues with regard to legal documentation and annual financial reports.
During the hearing Tuesday, the judge took issue with two main things.
First, the trustees are not bonded to the trust. Put simply, a bond serves to protect the asset of the estate. One of the court’s clerks described it like an insurance policy to insure the charitable trust is maintained the way it was intended.
The judge said, “I am disturbed in reference to the bonding.” He continued later saying, it is like the trustees are “blowing in the wind.”
The estate of Henry B. King has been around for decades and has changed hands multiple times. The people to whom Mr. King entrusted his assets are also no longer living so the estate was passed on again. All this changing of hands has complicated things. When a new trustee comes on board, they should be caught up to speed, but that has not happened for every matter with regard to Mr. King’s trust.
The second topic with which the judge found issue was that of the annual returns. The law requires the trustees to submit annual returns, but the judge pointed out they have not done this since 1996. Now, he wants the back log. The judge ordered the trustees to collect all the annual returns they could since the reports dropped off in 1996.
Lawyers involved tell NewsChannel 6 that collecting these financial documents is going to be difficult and here is why.
A bank serves as the fourth trustee. The bank in charge of Mr. King’s trust has changed multiple times. Meaning, trustees and their lawyers are stuck tracking down 20 plus years’ worth of financial records from multiple big banks that are no longer involved. This process could take months and there is no guarantee that trustees will be able to locate all of the documentation.
The judge understands the hurdles the trustees face. He said, “I do not expect you to do the impossible.” He gave them 60 days to gather the annual returns dating back to 1996, giving exceptions to the trustees who came on board after the fact.
Two of the three trustees have expressed interest in selling Pendleton King Park, which is part of Mr. King’s estate. Trustee Mary Speir does not want to sell the land. Her lawyer explained the importance of tracking down past financial documents.
“What these documents are required for is to find out the financial situation of the trust,” says attorney Joseph Rhodes. “That isn’t known for certain right now. We have got to find that out no matter what happens, whether there’s a sale, which my client absolutely does not want or anything else. The trust needs to know where it stands.”
Rhodes is also on the board for the Pendleton King Park Foundation, the non-profit that manages the park. Other board members were at Tuesday’s hearing along with Augusta’s District Attorney Natalie Paine. Both of these entities are trying to stop the sale of the park.
Trustee Clarence Baronowski tells NewsChannel 6 Tuesday’s hearing had nothing to do with the park or the sale of the park. He says the hearing was simply geared towards uncovering information the records for the estate.
On Tuesday, the judge suspended all activity outside of the ordinary course of business for the 64-acre property–meaning all transfers of trust assets were put on hold.
The president of the Pendleton King Park Foundation, Jim Blount, says he is glad the court is involved.
“We’re going to find out what sort of transactions have occurred, until then, there will be no transactions so that’s what we are looking forward to,” says Blount.
No follow up court date was scheduled at the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing.