The Chestertown Council on Tuesday approved the creation of a Task Force of Washington College and town representatives to develop a cooperative plan for the Chester River waterfront. The Task Force will be staffed by four representatives from the college and four chosen by Chestertown Mayor Margo Bailey to represent the town.
“I think this is such a great step…that we’re forming an equal footing alliance with the town and the college,” Bailey said. She announced the appointment of Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, Matthew Tobriner, Rebecca Flora, and Al Massoni to represent the town.
“This is a group to get together and see how we can blend and mesh the desires and needs of the two biggest landlords on the river,” Bailey said. “This is our only shot to get it correct. This is so important for our future, so it needs to be thought out well and planned well.”
The measure passed with considerable reservation and anxiety over whether council members should be allowed to observe the meetings of the Task Force–and whether the $200,000 gift the college pledged the town for the Sgt. John H. Newnam Armory in late 2011 should be under the control of the Task Force, as requested by Washington College President Mitchell Reiss.
Bailey wrote Reiss in December for the purpose of forming the Task Force. In a letter to Bailey dated Jan. 11, the day the two met in person, Reiss reiterated the talking points of the meeting that included his request to put the armory donation under the purview of the Task Force–chaired by Washington College Board Member John Moag.
Stetson objected to the use of the college donation in the Tasks Force’s budget and asked Bailey to respond to Reiss–striking any language regarding the donation.
Bailey reassured Stetson that only the council can approve how the donation is spent.
“They don’t do a budget, we do budgets,” Bailey responded. “Our money is controlled by us.”
Access to committee meetings an issue with Mumford-Pautz
Another sticking point in approving the measure came from Councilwoman Mabel Mumford-Pautz, who challenged Bailey that council members had the right to attend the proceedings of the Task Force, or any other committee working for the town.
Bailey initially balked at the idea and said the Task Force needed a “manageable number of people covering different disciplines, with the ability to talk freely among themselves.”
Mumford-Pautz fired back that she understood council members could not participate but insisted they had authority to observe the meetings.
“I want that permission,” she said.
A heated exchange ensued between Bailey and Mumford-Pautz over access to the Task Force’s deliberations.
Bailey eventually agreed to put a caveat in her response to Reiss–affirming that council members would be able to observe the meetings but not participate.
The Task Force was approved unanimously.
Below is a 14-minute video of the council’s discussions leading up to the vote. The spirited exchange between Bailey and Mumford-Pautz occurs at a little before six minutes into the video.
In attempt assuage the anxiety of the council and reaffirm the town’s domain over the armory donation, Councilman Jim Gatto introduced a motion during the ward reports to exclude the gift from the cash-on-hand totals introduced at each council meeting and track the money spent from the donation independently.
“I would like [the donation] to become a single line item…so that everybody in town, including the council, knows where it gets spent and when it is [spent],” Gatto said. “I want to keep track of it. It’s a very valuable sum the college is giving us [in exchange for the armory] and we should be held accountable to how we spend it.”
The motion passed unanimously.
Stetson lamented after the meeting that giving Washington College greater control of the gift would “essentially be giving the college their money back.” He said the original intent of the grant was to fund the Rails to Trails project and he wanted the funds targeted there.
The gift from the college was pledged after heated and bitter debate during the last six months of 2011 — when three council members demanded that Washington College give the town a substantial remuneration in exchange for the town’s option to buy the armory from the Maryland Department of General Services. The gift came to roughly 10 percent of the appraised value of the armory.
In other Washington College related business it was announced that Chestertown Town Manager Bill Ingersoll will receive the President’s medal from Washington College for his commitment to the Town of Chestertown, Bailey said.
Updated Jan. 28 at 4:55 p.m