'Mother grizzly bear' wants her $83,000 returned

Memorial to her daughter was housed in the now-closed Eagle Point Library Mercer threatens lawsuit
Carole Mercer, who donated $83,000 toward the Eagle Point Library, says Jackson County breached its contract with her when it closed all branches.Jim Craven

An Eagle Point woman has demanded Jackson County return an $83,000 donation because it failed to maintain a memorial in her daughter's memory at her local library.

Carole Mercer sent a letter to the county on Aug. 8 asking for the money, which was used to buy the land on which the Eagle Point Library sits. Mercer said she will file a suit against the county on Sept. 15 unless the money is returned to her.

"I'm a mother grizzly bear wanting to defend my dead cub," said Mercer, whose daughter Sarah Ann Mercer died 10 years ago after being struck by a car in Santa Cruz, Calif.

In 1999, Jackson County commissioners authorized the creation of a memorial to Mercer's daughter because of the donation, which was a house Mercer owned in Eagle Point that was sold to benefit the new library.

An agreement between Mercer and the Jackson County Library Foundation also indicates the county agreed to maintain the memorial.

Mercer said the county never created the memorial as agreed upon, and that she and others had to put it together. She said the county then breached the written agreement with her when libraries closed April 6.

Kristi Hagey, an attorney for the county, sent a letter to Mercer recently stating the county didn't breach the agreement. "First, the charitable donation made by you was made to the Jackson County Library Foundation, which is not a Jackson County organization, but rather a private organization."

Hagey said the county has no legal authority to return the money.

She stated the county's agreement was to create a memorial for Mercer's daughter, which was done in January 1999. The agreement specifically states that any memorial be independent of the charitable donation, Hagey stated.

The letter states the county commissioners are saddened that Mercer removed her daughter's memorial from the library on April 5.

Hagey said Mercer could return the items to either the Eagle Point Library or the main library in Medford.

Mercer said Hagey didn't include a letter from the county administrator or a separate commissioner order in January 1999 that shows the county's involvement in this issue.

Even if libraries reopen in November, Mercer said she can no longer trust that the county won't close them down again and block the public from seeing the shrine to her daughter.

"Nobody can get to know her behind locked doors," she said. "I feel absolutely violated by all this."

She said she worries the county won't follow through and actually reopen libraries. "Would you marry a man who thinks it might happen?" she said.

Mercer said commissioners have shown a willingness to spend tax dollars any way they see fit, citing as an example the $800,000 recently approved to buy new technology for the sheriff's department.

Jim Olney, executive director of the foundation, said he didn't want to comment on Mercer's legal problems with the county.

"She's an amazing woman and she's done so much for the community," he said. "We understand exactly what she's saying and going through with the library closed."

Sue King, chairwoman of the Friends of the Library in Eagle Point, said that most donations for the library are made to the foundation, not the county. "Everybody understands that's the way it is," she said.

Most donations do specify that they are to be used to benefit a particular library. In some cases, like the fireplace at Eagle Point Library, the donation pays for a specific improvement, she said.

King said she didn't want to comment on Mercer's situation with the county.

Other libraries, including one at the University of Santa Cruz, where Mercer's daughter studied, have expressed interest in receiving the donation if returned by the county, said Mercer.

She said she recently changed her will, removing an endowment that would have gone to the library system.

Mercer said she would rather send her money to another area that is a better steward of its library system.

"I'm afraid of Jackson County," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.


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