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City likes museum update
City Council members pleased with information provided by U.S. National Slavery Museum, but some still have questions.

Date published: 7/28/2005

By PAMELA GOULD

Several Fredericksburg City Council members say they were encouraged by information recently received from the U.S. National Slavery Museum and hope they've turned a corner in their working relationship.

"I think it's a great start," Councilman Billy Withers said yesterday regarding a July 18 letter museum Executive Director Vonita W. Foster sent to the city manager.

In that letter, distributed to council on Friday, Foster said the museum has cash and pledges of "more than $49 million."

She also wrote that a construction firm had been selected and that the museum would open in 2007 if permits and licenses are approved "in a timely fashion."

Withers said he was disturbed by the unfolding of events when four council members expressed a desire for an update on the museum before voting on Foster's request to waive building and construction fees that would have amounted to about $30,000.

"We went from, in my mind, some legitimate questions, to some kind of political battle," he said. "Quite frankly, I don't understand that."

That battle was apparent at Tuesday night's council meeting when council members began discussing how the fee-waiver request was handled at their previous meeting.

Before it was over, Withers told Councilwoman Debby Girvan he didn't like being accused of being unprepared, and told her it was a "vicious statement."

On July 12, in a 4-3 vote, the council deferred action on the waiver request to get more information on the project. Two days later, Foster sent a memo to City Manager Phillip Rodenberg withdrawing the request without explanation.

Withers and council members Kerry Devine, Tom Fortune and Matt Kelly voted for the delay after first determining their action would not hinder the project.

The museum is to be built on 38 acres in the Celebrate Virginia South tourism complex, just west of Interstate 95 and overlooking the Rappahannock River.

Yesterday, Devine said she still hopes to get more information.

"I'd love more details and I'd like them in the sense of benchmarks," she said, adding that she'd like the benchmarks on construction and fundraising.

Fortune could not be reached for comment yesterday, but the other three said they would be glad to set up a meeting with Foster and the museum board to share information.


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