Poplar Hill Proposals Meet Salisbury Council Opposition

SALISBURY — Possible changes to the Friends of Poplar Hill Mansion (FPHM) bylaws were met with mixed support from the Salisbury City Council. Additionally, a request to keep the remainder of a stipend granted to the Mansion’s curator was denied.

“There are a number of changes [to the bylaws],” Executive Officer John Pick told the council, highlighting the four “major” changes, three of which were questioned.

Located on Elizabeth Street, Poplar Hill Mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city owns the property and the FPHM maintains the building’s historic interior and offer tours of the Federal Period home the first and third Sundays of each month.

The first alteration proposed would amend a bylaw allowing either the mayor or council president to appoint a member to the FPHM board. The only change would be a deletion of the “council president,” leaving Salisbury’s mayor the sole appointment authority. Another contested change would grant the mayor the power to remove a member from the FPHM board, as long as he had the approval of the council.

A third amendment that raised eyebrows amongst the council members was a tweak that would allow FPHM board members to serve three consecutive terms if the Mayor and Council consented. Currently, board members may only serve two terms consecutively. If they seek a third, they must take at least one year off between second and third terms.

Of the four proposed changes, only the amendment dissolving the city’s responsibility to provide a recording assistant for FPHM meetings was not focused on.

Council Vice President Gary Comegys specifically questioned the first proposed amendment that would remove the council president’s authority to appoint a member to the FPHM board, remarking that he would prefer to strike the mayor from the bylaw and leave the council president.

“I’m not satisfied with that…with what’s written now,” said Comegys.

Comegys argued that the mayor already had enough influence over various city boards and commissions and that it would be better to spread the authority around.

It was also noted by the council that the combination of three of the proposed changes could allow the mayor to appoint a member, grant them a third consecutive term without the usual wait time and remove any member of the board that he disagreed with.

Those changes ran the risk of potentially creating a “mayor’s board,” a worry that was at least somewhat mitigated by the fact that granting a third term or removing a board member would require council approval.

“I think it just needs to have a little more review,” said Council President Louise Smith.

Councilwoman Deborah Campbell agreed and suggested that Pick take a look at bylaws from similar organizations. She added that she didn’t want anything to ever become “political and personal” as far as the FPHM was concerned.

The council voted to table the item until it could be redrafted and presented at a future work session.

In addition to examining FPHM bylaws, the council also voted against a request made by the organization asking that $1,600 left over from a stipend granted to Mansion Curator Nancy Marasco not be returned to the city’s general fund. Instead, FPHM officially requested that the money be applied toward hiring a part-time administrative assistant.

“Frankly, we [the administration] do not support that request,” Pick said.

Pick explained that the $1,600 was left over from a $10,000 stipend Salisbury had recently decided to grant Marasco, who, for undisclosed reasons, was only able to accept $8,400. Since the remaining money had already been marked for the FPHM anyway, the organization requested that it be allowed to keep it, even though Marasco would not be able to take the money personally.

The council however, opposed the request unanimously.
“This money simply needs to go back into the general fund,” asserted Campbell.

“I’m kind of disappointed and shocked this request came,” said Councilwoman Eugenie Shields.

Smith added her voice in agreement, informing FPHM representative Aleta Davis that the city was in “tight times,” and that, if Marasco was unable to accept her full stipend, Salisbury unfortunately had a number of projects that ranked higher in priority then financing an administrative assistant for the organization at this time.