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The Big Shush
City Council must give the Slavery Museum due scrutiny.

Date published: 7/15/2005

The Big Shush

A SKING Fredericksburg City Council for a waiver from construction fees, U.S. National Slavery Museum Executive Director Vonita Foster wrote in a March 24 letter that the city was one of the museum's "primary partners" in the project slated to open in 2007 in Celebrate Virginia South. Unfortunately, it appears that in the museum, the city and its citizens have a silent partner.

A citation of federal law was required to get a museum official to turn loose a copy of the project's 2004 tax return sought by The Free Lance-Star. Museum officials also refused to answer seven questions this newspaper asked regarding the pace of the museum's funding and other matters of public interest. But it isn't only the pesky press and unwashed burghers who are being blown off. City government, which in 2002 loaned the project $1 million to emplace infrastructure, evidently lacks the security clearance to gaze upon the museum's fundraising and other particulars--though the council is being asked, as Ms. Foster's letter illustrates, to sacrifice public revenue for the project's success. Commendably, by a 4-3 vote that should have been 7-0, the council put off action on the waiver request--now huffily withdrawn--until museum honchos could find their voices.

True, the museum, the brainchild of former Gov. Doug Wilder, is under no legal obligation to share most details of its gestation. But minimal good-neighborliness demands that it do so--not only because Fredericksburgers' tax dollars are even now helping nurture the endeavor, but because the museum, if it comes, will change the life of everyone in the city. The estimated $100 million creation could alter the nature of city tourism as surely, if not as much, as Colonial Williamsburg reconfigured everyday existence in non-Colonial Williamsburg. The museum's decision to keep Fredericksburg in the dark about its progress while attempting to secure city concessions is a relationship that can scarcely be called "partner-partner." "Parasite-host," regrettably, comes closer.

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