BYFIELD — A local arts organization has filed a $2,000 claim against a former board member and a Byfield design company, the latest in a string of court actions involving two factions that once jointly ran the center.
Richard Johnson, president of the board of the Yellow School Center for the Arts, is alleging that former board member Heidi Fram acted as an agent for Bisgrove Designs and allowed the company to occupy space in the former Byfield Elementary School from January 2005 to October 2006 without paying rent.
"This was done without the knowledge or consent of the directors of the Yellow School Center for the Arts, but with the indulgence of the person responsible for the security of the building," Johnson wrote in his complaint.
The former Byfield Elementary School, which closed in 1996, was generally known as the Yellow School.
On behalf of the board, Johnson filed a complaint Friday in the small claims division of Newburyport District Court. He is seeking $2,000 in back rent and the $40 filing fee.
"It's money I feel is owed to the Yellow School treasury," Johnson said. "It's money for services rendered."
Fram yesterday denied being an agent for Bisgrove.
"I was not an agent for them, so this has nothing to do with me," she said.
Johnson said he sent Fram a letter early this year, which she said she received, asking for the money.
Mark Bisgrove said his company had a lease with the Yellow School Center. "We fulfilled all the terms of that lease," he said.
In fact, he said, the Yellow School Center owes Bisgrove money from an unreturned security deposit.
Bisgrove said the lease was signed on behalf of the arts center by then-board member Linda Allen, who is not a party to the small claims case.
Johnson said he did not believe the lease ever came to the board for approval.
The complaint is the latest in a string of allegations between two distinct factions within the organization.
From 2001 until November 2006, the Yellow School Center leased both the school and the neighboring Byfield Town Hall from the town. Selectmen abruptly ousted the arts organization at the end of 2006, charging it with failing to maintain the buildings properly. After the eviction, selectmen appointed Fram and Allen as co-managers of the two-building campus. Last month, the selectmen gave them three-year appointments.
Johnson has said that before the eviction Allen had been the board member in charge of maintaining the buildings.
He also said Bisgrove Designs donated a piano to the Yellow School Center, but that Fram would not allow it to be removed from Byfield Town Hall after the organization was evicted.
Fram and Mark Bisgrove both said the piano was donated to "the facility," not the organization.
Fram and Allen have been operating the campus as the Byfield Community Arts Center since the end of 2006.
The small claims action is only the latest twist in a controversy that blew up when the arts center was evicted. It was clear to observers at that time that the board had split into two distinct factions, with Fram and Allen on one side and Johnson and several other members on the other.
Former Yellow School treasurer David Takesian, who had the support of Fram and Allen, was convicted in September of embezzling more than $100,000 from the organization. He was sentenced to two years in jail and 10 years' probation.
In October, Fram, Allen and their husbands won a small claims judgment against Johnson and the board for the return of $1,500 they had donated to a Yellow School Center fundraising campaign.
Although it has been unsuccessful in overturning its eviction, the Yellow School Center for the Arts has never disbanded or gone out of business.
Johnson said the organization will continue to seek vindication.
"We've been working over the years to reach some sort of compromise with the town that wouldn't leave any hard feelings, but I've given up on that," he said. "I've decided it's time to play hardball."