OLDSMAR — To some, it was akin to theft.
In early October, members of the Oldsmar Civic Club voted to donate about $240,000 of the nonprofit's leftover money to themselves when it was dissolved last year. Each received $24,000.
Mayor Jim Ronecker, City Council member Jerry Beverland and others were outraged at what they considered the members' greed.
Beverland said the club's bylaws state that if the organization disbanded, all proceeds must go to charity or a government entity.
Member Jean Jorgenson was so upset about the money grab she hired lawyer Charles "Skip'' Dayhoff to pursue the matter. One of the first things he did was send a certified, we-mean-business letter to the club members promising, in essence, life could be hell if they didn't return the money.
Six of the members complied.
Claude Kohlmetz said she never touched it anyway.
"I knew it wasn't kosher,'' she said. "I did my duty. I gave it back and I don't want anything more to do with it.''
James and Mary Campoli received $48,000 because both were members. They almost immediately put their payout in a certificate of deposit.
At the time, James Campoli asked, "Why wasn't it right? Civic Club members bought the land, put up a building, ran bingo to raise money they dispensed to various charities."
But under pressure, he and his wife had a change of heart.
"I gave it back because we are having a meeting to decide what charities the moneys will go to,'' he said. "My preference is that it goes to my church, Espiritu Santo Church.''
Of the four remaining members, only Marguerite Wilson responded. She called Dayhoff to say she never received a dime of the club's money.
Dayoff said a second warning letter has been sent.
"If they don't participate, it will become more serious,'' Dayhoff said.
The checks are being deposited into an escrow account and when or if they are all in, Jorgenson suggested the club meet again, this time to choose which charity or charities the money will benefit.
Dayhoff called the entire situation "very unusual, in my experience, anyway.''
In the early 1990s, the more than 70-year-old club was facing financial problems and was having trouble maintaining its building.
It agreed to give the city its land except for the parking lot and the building. In return for the 3 1/2 acres, the city would pay to renovate the club's building.
As part of the agreement, the city promised to maintain the site until it took ownership around 2019. Club members were welcome to meet in the facility until that time.
But six years ago, city officials decided the property would be an ideal site to build the library. It filed an eminent domain lawsuit in 2004 to force the club to hand over the clubhouse and parking lot. The mediation that followed resulted in a $225,000 settlement. The money has since grown to about $240,000, Jorgenson said.
Because of the lack of a building and dwindling membership, the club decided to disband. When it did so in October, the members met to figure out what to do with the money that was still in its account.
They voted to keep it for themselves.
Jorgenson was overjoyed when she found out at least some of the money had been returned. She had spearheaded the effort to get all of it back "for the benefit of the people of Oldsmar.''
As for the folks who have not yet given back their share?
"Maybe the heat will come down on them,'' Ronecker said.
Eileen Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.