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By Vicki Brown, Word&Way Associate Editor

Jefferson City — Windermere Baptist Conference Center still could face a possible contempt of court citation stemming from a June 1 court order prohibiting sale of timber on current or formerly owned property.

On July 6, Cole County Cir-cuit Court Judge Thomas Brown heard additional arguments on a contempt motion filed by the Missouri Baptist Convention. The judge had not ruled on the motion as of press time Monday.

The MBC contends that trees continue to be cut around Windermere despite a preliminary injunction Judge Brown issued on June 1. That injunction prohibits the conference center from selling or transferring property or timber or of incurring further debt secured by real estate without court approval.

Convention witness Don Buford, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Big Spring, testified he visited the conference center on June 30, where he saw two M.T. Logging workers loading logs.

At a hearing on June 27, Buford and Larry Atkins, pastor of Buckhorn Baptist Church, Waynesville, testified they had seen trucks, equipment and logs since the June 1 court order was issued. They admitted on June 27 that they had not seen anyone actually cutting trees.

Buford and Atkins are members of an MBC-elected board for Windermere but are not recognized by Windermere staff or its own elected trustees.

Both men said trucks and logs they had seen were on part of the 941 acres Windermere had sold to National City Bank as part of a debt restructuring plan in November 2005. Windermere Development Company Inc., started and owned by William R. Jester, purchased the acreage from the bank on Feb. 24.

MBC attorneys contend Windermere retained timber rights when it transferred title of the property to the bank. In that case, if logging continued after June 1, Windermere could be held in contempt.

Windermere interim executive director Dan Bench testified on July 6 that he had been unaware that logging had continued on the development company's land. He said he was not involved in negotiating timber contracts made early in 2005 and that he had met only once with Midwest Forestry Consultants owner Carl Houser, who had handled forestry management details for Windermere.

Timber contracts include one signed on Jan. 28, 2005, that was to have expired on Jan. 15, 2006. In January, Windermere chief operating officer Rich O'Guin extended the contract six months to give the logger time to finish harvesting.

Two additional contracts were signed — one good through August and one set to expire in December.

The Windermere director noted logs were paid for at the time contracts were signed, routinely done in the industry. The conference center received $88,641 in advanced payment.

Bench testified all the money was used by mid-March last year for operations and debt service.

MBC attorney Michael Whitehead argued that although Windermere had sold the land, it had retained the rights to the timber. "It was clearly a contract Windermere controlled," he said, adding that because the conference center benefited financially, it retained control of the timber.

Although the land title did not spell out timber rights when Windermere sold the property to the bank, MBC attorneys noted the logging contracts include a non-transferable clause.

If Windermere controls the timber or has received payment for timber cut since the injunction was granted, the conference center could be held in contempt. (07-13-06)

 
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