The Fayetteville City Council’s Museum Task Force held its first meeting last week, electing a chairman, determining the scope of its mission and deciding what type of information it needs to begin its task.
    The task force, appointed by the city council, was tasked with identifying the scope of the building project to be considered, in size and cost, by reviewing the fiscal capacity and sustainability of the Fayetteville Museum of Art; reviewing all potential building sites in the Municipal Service District of the downtown area; and identifying the best option that meets sustainability requirements; and reporting back to the city council by Dec. 15.
That charter was questioned at the outset of the meeting by Meredith Stiehl, one of the museum’s appointees to the task force and a member of its board. Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne was on hand to help launch the task force and responded to Stiehl’s queries on the scope of the group’s work by noting that the scope of the task force was spelled out in the council’s motion to appoint it.
    Stiehl countered that 90 days was a short time to try and work through all of the issues surrounding the proposed construction of the museum in Festival Park, noting that the charter seemed a bit “ambiguous.”
She added that the committee would be asked to “change the scope/size of the building project,” something she said was “clearly the job of the museum’s board of directors. Other members of the task force concurred that ultimately, it is the museum board’s decision on how they proceed with the project, but noted that the charge from the city was clear.
    Dave Wilson, a city appointee to the council, noted that the museum board can either listen to the task force’s recommendations and if they see wisdom in it, use those recommendations in determining how they proceed — or not. “We can’t fit our actions into the board’s decisions or we will be stifled before we begin,” he said.
Stiehl countered that the task force was treading on dangerous ground as it had “no right to dictate” to the museum.
Linda Devore, another city appointee, added that the task force would only make recommendations, but she added if there were not problems with the project, the task force wouldn’t be in existence.
    Wayne Riggins, an appointee from the Arts Council, said the task force’s mission was not difficult. He said the task force must first take a look at the current fiscal management of the museum to see if it adequate; then they must take a look at the project and see if it is doable; determine whether or not it is appropriate to put the project on public land; and if so, where do you put it.
    {mosimage}Stiehl again questioned whether or not the task force had the expertise to make those decisions, noting the museum had been exploring the project with professionals for more than five years.
    Riggins responded that there were people on the task force – a banker, a member of the N.C. Arts Council, and other business people who could look at the information, noting that the project had to “pass the smell test.”
Scott Baker, the newly-elected chairman of the task force, said, “Let’s not limit the scope. Let’s work through the initial steps.”
    For Baker, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Baker moved to the community in June of this year, and has little or no knowledge of the museum or the project. He thinks that might give him an edge on the task force because he “doesn’t have any baggage.”
    The group also tackled the question of what information they needed to move forward. The initial request for information includes: the past four years of audited financial records; the feasibility report for building in Festival Park; the contracts between the city and the museum; correspondence between the Arts Council of Fayetteville-Cumberland County concerning audit problems; complete plans for the proposed museum; and the museum’s sustainability report.
    Ralph Huff, a local builder, and an appointee to the task force by the museum, noted that no matter what happens throughout the process the task force needed to come to a consensus. He said that if a consensus is not reached, the community will not accept the finding of the task force. He also noted that many people on the task force already have an opinion on what should happen, but they must put those opinions aside.
    One other issue addressed by the task force was the issue of information the task force put out to the public. Several members of the task force are frequent contributors to local publications on community issues, while Devore has her own blog, where she frequently discusses the museum. The board voted that no members of the task force would speak publicly about the work of the task force unless it was in the confines of the public meetings. Devore was the only member of the task force who voted against the motion, noting that the public had a right to know. Three media outlets, The Fayetteville Observer, WFNC and Up & Coming Weekly, were on hand to cover the meeting.

Janice Burton can be reached at editor@upandcomingweekly.com

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