Legal battle over ownership of Terrace Hill artifacts escalates

By: - August 4, 2022 3:49 pm

The south face of Terrace Hill, the Iowa governor’s mansion, on Nov. 23, 2021. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The state of Iowa is asking a judge to dismiss a charity’s claim that it owns many of the artifacts on display in the governor’s mansion.

Terrace Hill, located at 2300 Grand Ave. in Des Moines, is the official residence of the governor of the state, and is a National Historic Landmark built in 1869.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this year, the Terrace Hill Society Foundation said that for nearly 50 years, the foundation and its predecessors received hundreds of items of donated property, including historical artifacts and monetary donations, used for the restoration, preservation and improvement of Terrace Hill.

The foundation says it has worked closely and cooperatively with the Terrace Hill Commission, a state entity that manages the governor’s residence, in part by placing items from its collection of artifacts on display at Terrace Hill.

The foundation alleges that in recent years, a disagreement has developed between the commission and the foundation regarding ownership and control over the collection, “resulting in the commission, in effect, seizing control of the collection” and denying the foundation access to it.

As a result, the foundation says, it must now sue the commission and seek a declaratory judgment from the court that states the foundation, and not the commission, is the sole owner of all of the items in the collection. The commission has repeatedly rebuffed any efforts by the foundation to inspect, maintain and repair items in the collection, the foundation claims.

The commission recently filed a motion seeking dismissal of the case, arguing that it has not waived its sovereign immunity from such lawsuits. The commission says the foundation is not entitled to gain access to “a secure government facility that serves as the governor’s residence.”

The commission adds that the injunction sought by the foundation would force the state to grant the foundation immediate access to all the items it allegedly owns inside Terrace Hill.

“This is a significant intrusion into state sovereignty and the administration of the state’s affairs,” the commission’s lawyers have told the court. “The intrusion is all the more significant because the foundation seeks access to Terrace Hill — the secure governor’s residence and location of state functions.”

The Terrace Hill Commission is a nine-person board, created by statute and appointed by the governor, that provides for the preservation, maintenance, renovation, landscaping and administration of Terrace Hill.

According to the commission’s website, its current members include Gov. Kim Reynolds’ husband, Kevin Reynolds; Kristin Hurd; William Dikis; Brad Duffy; Jerry Mathiasen; Rob Reinard; Heather Soener; Julie Stewart; and Kasey Vogel.

A separate, private entity called the Terrace Hill Partnership works with the commission and raises money to preserve and enhance the property. The nonprofit partnership includes Hurd as its chairperson and lists Kevin Reynolds as an ex-officio member.

The partnership claims on the official Terrace Hill website that it is “the only non-profit organization that supports Terrace Hill.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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