Quiet woman's will causes debate
Library and town board clash in latest chapter of Haass fight
Village of Sussex - Pauline Haass was, according to her friends, a quiet, soft-spoken farmer's wife and school teacher who loved libraries. She apparently was not the kind of woman who enjoyed being in the middle of controversy. Yet, nearly 35 years after her death, she is.
The Town of Lisbon and the Pauline Haass Library Board are fighting over the 65-acre farm at Lake Five and Hickory roads where she and her husband, George P. Haass lived for 34 years.
In 1966, a year before her husband's death, Polly, as she was called by her friends, wrote out her will and bequeathed "the entire residue of my estate, real and personal, to the Town of Lisbon for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a free public library in the Town of Lisbon … "
Born in Washington County in 1905, she was raised in the Hubertus-Richfield area.
She lived in a boarding room so she could attend high school in Hartford.
She was one of three members of the first class of junior high school teachers to graduate from Milwaukee Normal School in 1927, a teaching college that later became the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Her friends said she loved to read and would visit libraries across the county in order to find a book she wanted.
She was also forward thinking when it came to library organization.
Her will described in detail how a commission was to be formed and be in charge of "all plans and other matters" relating to the construction and operation of a new library for the town.
"In order that said library may be centrally located in the said township of Lisbon, I authorize and empower the governing body of same Town of Lisbon, at its discretion, to purchase suitable premises for the location of said library, either in the Village of Sussex or in the Township of Lisbon" according to the will.
Haass' will established the framework for the intermunicipal agreement between the Town of Lisbon and the Village of Sussex which today funds and operates the library bearing her name.
But, the will has also been the source of a long-standing battle between the Town and Library Board over who should have "custody and control" of the Haass Farm.
Library officials argue that according to state law and the intermunicipal agreement they should have "control and custody" of the land.
According to one Library Board attorney, state law is "clear and unambiguous" that library boards have "exclusive charge, control and custody" over lands bequeathed to them.
The attorney points to a 1995 amendment to the intermunicipal agreement between Sussex and Lisbon that provides all current and future lands are solely owned by the library.
Town officials rebut that the land was given to the town so the town would have "the broadest powers" to establish a library.
Furthermore, lawyers argue the state law cited by the library officials does not apply to the intermunicipal agreement.
In addition, they say, the land belongs to the town according to the local ordinance written in 1987 that created the committee referred to in the will.
In the latest episode of the more than decade-long dispute, the Library Board has served notice on the Town that the Library Board may sue unless the town board agrees to turn over the land to the library.
Library officials have said the action is necessary because town officials have warned they might terminate the intermunicipal agreement between Lisbon and Sussex that funds the library.
Town Chairman Matt Gehrke said he is hopeful that a new intermunicipal agreement can be reached which might help resolve the land issues between the Town Board and library.
But, Gehrke said the town is not turning the land over to the library.
Gehrke said if there is a new intermunicipal agreement, the town will continue to maintain the farm in anticipation it some day it may be used to help the town pay its share of major capital improvements to the library.
If the town and village cannot reach a new agreement and the Village of Sussex takes over the library, Gehrke said the town intends on maintaining the land for some future town library purpose.
Gehrke has insisted a new intermunicipal agreement will require Sussex pay a greater share of the operating costs of the library because Sussex residents use the library more than village residents.
A negotiating committee worked for 14 months on a compromise proposal that increase the village's share of the library costs but Gehrke rejected the deal.
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