PONCA CITY â€” The state attorney general has intervened on behalf of 44 children scheduled to be evicted from a children's home during the holiday season.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson filed a request Tuesday in Kay County District Court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the closing of the American Legion Children's Home in Ponca City. He also is asking that a judge nullify all prior decisions about closing the home, remove three of its board members and appoint a receiver to oversee the charity's
The board's executive committee, Art Besa, of Lawton, David Kellerman, of Mustang, and W.D. Wilson, of Oklahoma City, voted in October to close the home Dec. 31. Edmondson wants them removed. Calls to the three men and their attorney were not returned.
Kellerman also is the adjutant for the American Legion of
â€œShame on the American Legion and especially the home's board for their callous indifference to the plight of 44 children,â€ Edmondson said. â€œThat it's almost Christmas only serves to worsen the impact of this decision. This is not like the American Legion I have for so long admired.â€
Established in 1928 by oil magnate E.W. Marland, the American Legion Children's Home provides care for needy children focusing on descendants of active and former members of the military. It has since evolved to serve all children, and receives 90 percent of its funding from the state Department of Human Services. The home has a reported $2.6 million in cash, along with other assets such as vehicles, electronics and furnishings.
District Judge D.W. Boyd granted a temporary restraining order Tuesday barring the board from selling any of the home's assets until he issues a ruling on Edmondson's requests. A hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m., Dec. 14.
Edmondson is alleging Kellerman, Wilson and Besa broke the law when they closed the home, according to the lawsuit. Allegations include:
• The executive committee failed to notify Edmondson's office about changing the purpose of the children's home's charitable trust.
• The three violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting's Act when they didn't post their meeting agendas, and didn't provide annual meeting notices to the secretary of state.
• They violated their fiduciary duties with respect to managing and safeguarding the charitable trust assets of the home.
Sen. David Myers, R-Ponca City, said the committee made the decision behind closed doors so no one but them knows what their reasons are for closing the home.
â€œThat home has at least $3 million in assets and I and others believe the American Legion wanted the money,â€ Myers said.
Myers said none of the explanations American Legion state officials have given about closing the home make sense.
â€œOne of the reasons they said they were closing it was because it was a financial drain, but that couldn't be any further from the truth,â€ Myers said. â€œDHS funds a majority and the rest is supported by donations. Not a penny comes from the state American Legion.â€
State child welfare officials say finding homes for the 44 children who live there won't be easy if it closes.
Howard Hendricks, director of DHS, said at this time they are taking a twofold approach to the problem.
â€œWe are making a contingency plan should the home close and we will work with persons who have expressed an interest in the continued operations of the home,â€ he said.