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Slavery museum yanks its request for construction-fee waiver, to surprise of some Fredericksburg City Council members
By PAMELA GOULD
Executive Director Vonita W. Foster withdrew the U.S. National Slavery Museum's request for a waiver of construction-permit fees two days after the Fredericksburg City Council deferred its decision on whether to grant it.
The council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to seek a meeting with slavery museum officials to get an update on the project before deciding whether to grant what city staff estimated would be a waiver worth about $30,000.
Yesterday morning, Foster faxed a short memo to City Manager Phillip Rodenberg asking that the request be withdrawn from the council's consideration.
The memo offered no explanation and, despite speaking with Foster yesterday, Rodenberg said he was "not aware" of why the action was taken.
Calls to the slavery museum offices yesterday afternoon were not returned.
"I don't know how to react to that because I'm not sure what they're reasoning is," said Councilman Tom Fortune, who voted for the delay. "I hope they're not interpreting what happened the other night as a lack of support, because it's far from that."
Fortune said he feels there is unanimous support for the project and the waiver, but he and council members Kerry Devine, Matt Kelly and Billy Withers want to get a better handle on the project and its progress before taking action.
He said they want "basically the same information" they asked of officials with the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center when they were requesting the city's financial support this year.
"It seems very reasonable to me," Fortune said. "I don't know what the controversy is."
But Councilwoman Debby Girvan said she feels her council colleagues' requests are "unreasonable."
"I just feel like they're creating a divisive, antagonistic relationship where there need not be one," Girvan said.
Girvan said she had some warning the action might come.
She said Foster told her during a conversation Monday that it was under consideration.
"She said if it was going to cause problems, they would consider withdrawing it," Girvan said yesterday.
She added that Foster did not see the waiver as significant.
"They didn't want to create any problems. She said it's more of a nominal show of support. It's not a deal-breaker," Girvan said.
Girvan also said she did not see the action as a signal the museum was rejecting the council's request for more information.