Camp Conestoga is one of four camps the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois considered selling last year, prompting a lawsuit that is being heard in Scott County District Court, Davenport.

Quad-City Times file photo

At the heart of the two-day trial pitting adult members of the Girl Scouts against the local council is one issue: Trust.

Five women, all with long and loyal ties to Scouting, filed suit against the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois asking a Scott County civil-court judge to recognize their rights as members of the organization to have a vote in any future land sales.

A committee of the Girl Scouts council recommended a year ago that Camp Conestoga in Scott County and three others in Iowa be sold. Almost immediately, adult members of the council filed an injunction, seeking to halt the sale. But the council also reacted swiftly, adopting a different land-use plan that retains the camps.

In court this week, council officials testified the land-sale proposal was merely an idea that emerged from years of research into the viability of council assets. In fact, council CEO Diane Nelson testified the plan all along was to build a better, more modern and centralized camp for all the girls in the 38 counties served by the council.

When four councils merged into the new Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois about six years ago, she said, the leadership had to look at the most efficient ways of doing business and rid themselves of duplication in staffing, services and all other aspects of the organization.

"That was the only thought of the property committee: to bring it all together," she said of the idea of building one centralized camp.

The camp strategy the council's board of directors ultimately adopted instead adds modern amenities to Conestoga, including climate-controlled buildings. Today's girls do not pine for the rustic outdoor experience of Girl Scouts of yesterday, council officials said, and the camp needs updating.

Meanwhile, the three other camps, Little Cloud, Tahigwa and L Kee Ta, also are to remain in council ownership, but their uses are being scaled back, and portions likely will be sold later.

Conestoga is becoming the only residential camp, meaning it will be used for extended overnight stays while the others are to be used for daytime activities, shorter overnight stays and troop activities. With just 1,200 of the 20,000 Girl Scouts in the council opting to attend extended camp, the council must provide other programming for the remaining 18,000 Scouts, Nelson said.

Conestoga, which has a New Liberty address, is the most attractive camp, geographically, she said, because it is within an hour's drive of 75 percent of the girls.

But the petitioners who took the council to court were not sold on the amended camp plans. In fact, Debby Stork was the last to testify as a rebuttal witness Wednesday and said she thinks the camp sales are imminent and said the council backed off the sale temporarily only after being pressured by adult members.

The petitioners' attorney hinted strongly through her line of questioning that the women think the council wants to sell the camps to raise money to help with a pension-fund crisis at the national Girl Scouts USA. The local council had the four camps appraised last year, and the combined market value is $5 million.

The council subsidizes the four camps by about a half-million dollars a year, but the properties and their programs never have been expected to make money, council officials testified.

Teresa Colgan, chairman of the board for the council, testified the board and council currently have no real-estate listings on any portions of any of the camps, nor do they have any contracts or even interest in selling.

Colgan and Nelson also testified, however, the council would be capable of continuing its programs without any land. They also confirmed part of the property plan that has been adopted calls for portions of the camp ultimately to be divested.

The intent to sell even portions of the camp is largely at the center of the petitioners' distrust.

The final document to be introduced in court Wednesday was a map, produced by a council-hired architect, showing specific areas of Conestoga that are to be divested. Colgan testified she never had seen the map.

"It hasn't come to the board in the form of a proposal," she said.

Part of the council's argument against a membership-wide vote on property sales centered on the fact the councils that came before Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, along with many others across the nation, have a long history of property management. The Mississippi Valley Council, which was one of four that merged into the current council, sold three camps in 1998 without consulting the membership, for instance.

Also, when the council borrowed money last year to build a new office in Bettendorf, it did so without members' endorsement.

The last witness to testify for the petitioners, longtime member Jane Duax, used the words "skewing and misleading" to describe the data the council used to decide the camps' future.

She also said she was escorted out of the Davenport RiverCenter last year, because she was sharing information about the proposed camp closures.

She said she was delivering information about an effort dubbed S.O.S., or Save our Girl Scout Camps, when council officials and a private security guard asked her to leave the Girl Scout event. She also testified that council officials attempted to confiscate signatures she had collected for the effort.

"I felt like they were bullying me and harassing me," Duax said.

At the conclusion of testimony Wednesday, Judge Marlita Greve did not immediately rule in the matter and is taking the arguments under advisement.