A pawn in the state’s game

Bidwell Mansion Association locked out because state wants its money

The author graduated from Chico High School in 1962. He is “a rank-and-file member,” as he puts it, of the Bidwell Mansion Association. He co-authored (with David Nopel) the history of Bidwell Mansion that appeared as a cover story in the Jan. 26 issue of the CN&R.

Congratulations! The citizens of Chico have generously contributed to the effort to keep Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park open for another year.

But the California Department of Parks has terminated its working agreement with a local volunteer group, the Bidwell Mansion Association. Why?

The state says it has the “contractual right” to terminate because of a clerical mix-up between two valid federal tax-identification numbers. The problem was discovered in May 2010, and as a result the BMA temporarily lost its nonprofit status.

That problem has been fixed. There are no outstanding problems with taxes. No money was mishandled; none has been lost. During more than 50 years of the BMA’s distinguished existence (see “A history of ‘narrow escapes,’ ” CN&R, Jan. 26), there has never been a hint of intentional wrongdoing of any kind.

The state could have chosen to continue the relationship. It did not do so. Again, why?

By taking this action, the state can “legally” proceed to transfer assets of more than $130,000 from the BMA’s bank account into the account of the Bidwell Bar Association, in Oroville.

It can “legally” lock out the BMA from the Visitor Center, denying access to years of meeting minutes and notes.

It can hand-pick a successor group to help it manage Bidwell Mansion, a task the BMA has performed since the inception of the park.

These are the state’s written intentions. And it’s an outrage.

Over the last 10 months, as the problem lingered in the hands of the IRS, the BMA continued to publicize the plight of the mansion to local citizens and state lawmakers and initiated the town-hall meeting that kicked off the local fundraising efforts to save it. While in limbo, the BMA on several occasions requested legal clarification of the state’s intentions. None was forthcoming.

But now the state’s intentions are clear: Let’s take the money and get a group in here we can control. Bidwell Mansion? It’s just a pawn in the money game.

It’s a terrible shame. Good will and cooperation are precious things. Bureaucracy is destroying a relationship between local involvement and state government that has done amazing things over the years.

With or without the state, the BMA will live on. Volunteers will start out again to raise money the old-fashioned way, by working for it. They will rededicate themselves to their mission, which has always been Bidwell Mansion.