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Overdue taxes and apparent departure of director raise questions about slavery museum's status
'Hallelujah' by Ken Smith was unveiled during the opening
FILE/SCOTT NEVILLE/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY PAMELA GOULD
Eight months ago, then-Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder visited Fredericksburg to plead with City Council to give tax-exempt status to the slavery museum he announced for Celebrate Virginia seven years earlier.
He acknowledged that his duties as mayor of Richmond had hindered the project's progress. Construction hasn't begun and building permits have never been sought.
"One of the reasons we haven't gone further is speaking to you now--me," Wilder told the council on June 10.
But the former governor and grandson of slaves stressed that financing the U.S. National Slavery Museum had been a major challenge and that the burden of paying taxes on the museum's 38-acre property was a weight the city could lift if it wanted the project.
"Either you want the museum here or you don't," Wilder told the Fredericksburg council. "Clearly, paying the kind of monies that we'd have to pay wouldn't help us in that direction."
But council was not swayed.
Two weeks later, in a 6-1 vote with Councilman Hashmel Turner dissenting, the council denied Wilder's request.
The next tax bill, due in November, went unpaid.
As of this week, with pen-alty and interest added, the museum owed $24,093.02, according to the city treasurer's office.
Now, two months after Wilder's mayoral term ended, no Fredericksburg official has seen or heard from him.
Councilman Turner's attempts to reach him for information have been unsuccessful.
Former Fredericksburg Mayor Lawrence Davies is uncertain whether he remains on the museum board.
And every indication suggests that the museum's small staff--including Executive Director Vonita Foster--is gone.
The last certain sighting of Foster at the museum offices in the Uptown section of Central Park was in November.
People who work near the museum's leased space on the second floor of 1320 Central Park Boulevard--doors labeled 244, 250 and 251--say they've seen no one in December, January or this month.
The museum never had much staff beyond Foster and one assistant.
The Free Lance-Star has found no one during repeated visits to the office. The paper has left voice-mail messages for Foster at the museum offices and on her home number, and has sent e-mails to her museum account and a personal account but has never received any response.
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