By Vicki Brown, Word&Way Associate Editor
Jefferson City — Windermere Baptist Conference Center has been cleared of a contempt of court charge stemming from timber cutting near its facilities.
On July 14, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown overruled a motion by the Missouri Baptist Convention to hold the conference center in contempt of a June 1 court order prohibiting sale of timber on current or formerly owned property.
Judge Brown heard arguments on the contempt motion at hearings on June 27 and July 6.
The MBC contended that trees continued 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.
"Windermere very much respected the court order and did everything to follow it," center attorney Kurt Odenwald said by phone on July 17. "I'm pleased the judge apparently recognized that."
Windermere interim executive director Dan Bench said he was pleased with the outcome, adding, "It was never our intention to violate the judge's June 1st ruling and good to know that he agreed we had not done so."
The MBC presented two witnesses, Don Buford, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Big Spring, and Larry Atkins, pastor of Buckhorn Baptist Church, Waynesville. Both men testified they had seen logging equipment and workers loading logs. However, both also 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 contended Windermere retained timber rights when it transferred title of the property to the bank.
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.
He pledged that the conference center would end the year financially solvent and that staff would focus on ministry.
"Windermere is experiencing a very good year, and we definitely expect to end the year in the black," he said. "The distractions have been time and energy consuming, but God continues to bless the ministry of Windermere." (07-19-06)