Before I begin, I would like to express my deep appreciation to Mayor Foster and the members of the Town Council for reappointing me to the Chestertown Historic District Commission earlier this week, and for their support throughout this process.
I have been reluctant to engage in the public and online conversation concerning the Chestertown Historic District Commission, of which I am a member, having been unanimously reappointed by the Mayor and Town Council at their meeting on January 16, 2024. However, specious and hypocritical attacks leveled against me at the meeting regarding my qualiﬁcations for appointment have compelled me to respond.
For the past six months, since discussion began about the fate of the Chestertown Armory, a very vocal group of community members have repeatedly expressed their “concern” not only for the fate of the Armory, but also for the overall state of the Historic District, as well as the expertise and knowledge of the members of the Historic District Commission. These concerns have been expressed in social media, via email, letter, and in public presentations and meetings. To be clear, I have NO objection to the expression of one’s opinion, and I believe that productive discourse and constructive debate is a valuable part of living in a free society.
Not only as a Commission member, but also as a resident of the Historic District, I would assert that Chestertown is a vital, thriving community with a strong sense of place and a commitment to historic preservation. The Historic District has never been more vibrant, and it continues to contribute signiﬁcantly to our Town’s tax base through renovations and new construction.
Several weeks ago, members of this group decided that they were going to challenge my reappointment to the HDC. One member in particular emailed the group that it was their intention to challenge my appointment “with facts,” as part of their effort to replace me with someone the group considered more qualiﬁed and likely to be more supportive of their agenda.
The fact that this group believes that their success requires maligning and disrespecting another talented professional lacks integrity.
There have been, and will certainly be again, ample opportunities for the alternative individual to serve if they so desire.
At Tuesday’s meeting, much was made of the inferiority of my credentials and what was described as a “troubling pattern of recusals,” as the basis for my removal. While credentials can be important, so too are professional experience and diversity of perspective. Most people would agree that both are necessary and valuable.
With respect to recusals; it is standard practice for members of Boards and Commissions to disclose any relationships that they may have, positions they hold, or Boards on which they serve, that could be considered conﬂicts of interest. It is also generally accepted practice for members to recuse themselves from voting on any proposals related to their disclosures.
The reason for my repeated recusals is really quite simple and completely innocuous; my husband, John Hutchison, is an architect who does a great deal of work in the Town’s Historic District. This work necessitates frequent appearances before the Commission and the aforementioned recusals. To characterize actions that are appropriate to my service, without the context necessary for individuals who are unfamiliar with board service, as troubling, can only be an attempt to cast aspersions on my character and my integrity, nothing more.
Several speakers cited the need for the Commission to be composed of members who meet the criteria of the Council of Local Governments, and at least one member pointed out that there is not a “single current member of the Commission” who meets this criteria. Why then, if this is such a matter of importance, has this issue never been raised at ANY of the 6 prior re/appointments in the last three years, including the most recent ones last summer?
Additionally, It is entirely false to assert that there is no other consideration or duty more important than to that of the buildings and their architecture – more than ever, historic preservation in a community is a complex issue with considerations beyond the architecture and preservation of buildings, chief among these economic development, a point of view strongly supported by both the National Park Service, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, among many authorities. My diverse expertise is an asset to the Commission rather than a liability.
I would strongly suggest that those who opposed my nomination did so for reasons having everything to do with their desire to have a Commission that is lacking in diverse points of view and experience, and representative of a speciﬁc agenda. Their actions are a detriment of our community, and are not, I believe, representative of the views, or will, of the majority.
There is much work to be done, and I believe that together we can achieve remarkable results. Considering the context and economic development impact of preservation, along with the buildings and architecture, are a critical part of honoring and preserving our community’s remarkable and beautiful history for generations to come.