Historical society needs strategic plan

To the editor,

I have been reading with great dismay the recent articles in the Portland Press Herald and the Kennebunk Post regarding the unanimous vote of the Kennebunkport Historical Society board of directors to sell the Pasco Center, which, according to the society’s website, is “Home to the society’s administrative offices, archives and research center.”

The function of the Pasco Center is paramount to the society’s mission.

With the sale of the building what will become of the collections that tell the stories of centuries of Kennebunkport history? Much has been mentioned about the archives and, according to executive director, Kristin Lewis Haight, “a subcommittee has been formed with the care of the archival collection as its sole task.” However, much more is at stake. The archives are certainly important, but what will happen to the remainder of the collections, which include furniture, significant fine art, sculpture, trade signs, half hulls, ship trail boards, and numerous other artifacts, small and large? These items are the essence of the society.

In addition, as with all organizations of this nature, they are held in public trust. The Pasco Center is the only building the Kennebunkport Historical Society owns that has an HVAC system, which is key to the preservation of these objects.

The board of directors’ and staff members’ respect of these items is already in question. Photos on the site of a local real estate agent include one of a bathroom in the Pasco Center, which currently serves a dual purpose – providing storage for a late 18th-century high chest on frame from the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, area. It was a bequest from longtime society member Ann Fales. Is the next destination for this piece the auction block?

It is astonishing that a group of seven individuals can make the decision to change the course of the 69-year-old society without informing the membership. But clearly, one must wonder how decisions are made. This is the third time that a board of directors has made an impulsive decision to sell one of the society’s properties. The first was in 2010 with the threatened sale of White Columns, and, more recently, the Town House School before it was restored.

There is no transparency regarding the society’s financial decisions. It is claimed that the Pasco Center – a 22-year-old building – requires $100,000 worth of renovations. There is no documentation to the public as to what those costs might be. Nor do there appear to be any efforts afoot to raise funds for this purpose.

Traditionally, small museums and historical societies rely on three kinds of income: endowment income, donations and earned income, including fundraisers and other programs. There does not seem to be any recent activity in the last of these categories.

On the historical society website there is a tab called “Make a Gift.” This tab describes a plan initiated by the late Tim Dietz for a multimillion dollar capital campaign. The text goes on to say that the Kennebunkport Historical Society wants to honor Tim by raising $250,000 to name a new maritime gallery after him. It’s hard to believe that one might be persuaded to donate to a new structure when the organization is at a loss to maintain its existing real estate holdings.

This spring, the society hired four new staff members, a significant increase over one full-time staff member. And yet, these newly minted staff members are about to lose their dedicated office space. It will be difficult to effectively manage an organization without the basic tools.

The Kennebunkport Historical Society appears to be, once again, in a crisis-management mode. Before any further decisions are made, it would behoove the organization to put its house in order by creating and implementing a workable strategic plan.

The concerned members of the society do have an option if their voices are not heard. They may contact the office of the Maine Attorney General.

Susan C.S. Edwards


Survey records residents’ opinions

To the editor,

Have you taken Kennebunk’s Community Opinion Survey?

The survey is open to residents, those who only work here, and even our visitors from away. The responses will help shape Kennebunk planning initiatives for years to come. It merits your input, at least because the town has budgeted $30,000 in tax increment financing for the process and another $30,000 is in the queue from similar sources. This is part of the town’s branding initiative as well.

Questions posed and choices for answers run from predictable to positively intriguing.

How do you feel when you visit Kennebunk? (Sophisticated? Anxious? Adventurous? Stressed?, etc.)

What’s its character? (Serious? Playful? Elitist? Boring?, etc.)

What are Kennebunk’s amenities and assets? What’s unique? What words first come to mind when you think of Kennebunk? What changes should be made? What should stay the same?

I’d like to suggest that this is a major opportunity to share your thoughts. Do not limit yourself to the stated choices. Use the “other” boxes fully and expound in blanks regarding your quality of life.

The Economic Development Committee is asking: Do you sit in summertime traffic at Route 1/Fletcher/Summer streets waiting through endless traffic light cycles? Can friends find affordable housing? How’s your internet connection and bill? Is beach-side parking fair and equitable? Empty storefronts making you nervous? Think the no idling policy is a joke? Do you feel your tax dollars are being used more for residents or visitors? Too many forests being leveled? Is branding really a priority?

This is the chance to get something off your chest.

The survey comes right up on your screen when you visit the town website. I was not able to determine how long it will be available. So, no time like the present to fill it out and get your opinions noted.

Susan A. Bloomfield

West Kennebunk