Historic Beaufort Foundation: Mayor Billy Aims to Cook the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. Chapter 2

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To their credit, Southerners have long held good common-sense attitudes about government overkill, often stated as, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

For more than a half century, Beaufort’s ordinances have provided that one seat out of five on what is today known as the Historic District Review Board (HDRB) be dedicated to a nominee from the Historic Beaufort Foundation (HBF).

This long-standing arrangement is in recognition of the special expertise this member brings to the Board. Now, Mayor Billy Keyserling has declared war on the HBF, as he seeks to eliminate this exceptionally successful arrangement. Not only is this law not broken, but the persons who have held this seat over the years have made significant contributions to the good working order of this important Board. Today, the system works as well as it ever has. There ain’t no problem here.

Their duties and how HDRB members execute them is the central core of this issue. This nexus of this argument is not about the HBF per se, an institution that the mayor has often praised.

Rather, it is about HBF’s role in nominating a member to the HDRB. It is critical to keep this distinction in mind as you, Beaufort’s citizenry, contemplate the merits of the Mayor’s attack.

The main task of all members of the HDRB, most especially including the HBF nominated member, is to evaluate any project within Beaufort’s Federal Historic Landmark District to ensure its consistency with the U. S. Secretary of Interior’s requirements, and to ensure compliance with other adopted guidelines, such as the Beaufort Preservation Manual, often referred to as The Milner Report.

The role/objective of every member is exactly the same; specifically, to ensure the conservation and preservation of our historic patrimony. A duty they have executed with exceptional accomplishments; I know, because I interviewed HDRB nominees during my three terms as Beaufort’s mayor.

Dedicated appointments to boards and commissions are not unusual phenomena. Many boards/commissions in Beaufort County have appointments dedicated for certain members.

I served as Chairman and Treasurer (3 years each) of the Board of Directors of the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority — as a dedicated appointee for the City of Beaufort; other dedicated positions there are for Beaufort County and Jasper County, among others.

The valid rationale for dedicated appointments is that they represent important constituencies, so that their interests may always be part of any policy dialogue.

In his recent newsletter, Keyserling tells us, “First and foremost, for me this is a matter of ethics.”

This is just horse puckey nonsense. As far as I can recollect, there has never been an ethics complaint filed against an HBF member of HDRB. In the event of such inappropriate behavior, any member of the HDRB or City Council could file an ethics complaint and it would be investigated by the State.

Moreover, the mayor’s subsequent dialogue, supposedly about “ethics,” actually has nothing to do with ethics, but is rather a smokescreen assault on why any board member should represent a particular constituency.

Keyserling says “… they should be vetted by City Council and the public who attend our work session interviews, accept the fact that they are working in their Board of Review capacity for all citizens of the city and not just HBF and be transparent about contacts with HBF and/or any other special interest.”

Holy Moly, Batman!

What utter foolishness. Every nominee is vetted by City Council, as occurred just last week. And there have been times when an HBF nominee has not been approved.

The HBF member fully understands what is his/her task, which is to work, not for the HBF, and not for City Council, and not for City Hall, but rather for all the citizens of Beaufort to ensure the integrity of our precious irreplaceable legendary patrimony.

And YES, every member of the HDRB does have a “special interest”; it is a special duty to protect, conserve and preserve the unique historical legacy that is so special to our cultural identity. I can’t say it strongly enough: the duty of every member of the HDRB is to make judgments on projects within the Historic District consistent with the U. S. Secretary of Interior’s guidelines for historic review.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Historic Beaufort Foundation. But I passionately support Beaufort’s requirement that one member of the five-member Historic District Review Board be dedicated to HBF’s nominee. This law/ordinance has been in place for almost a half century and their service has been a credit to our community.

Indeed, at last week’s Council meeting to vet nominees to the HDRB, Keyseling and the members of Council praised the HBF for its good work, and the mayor himself characterized the HBF nominee, Mary Ragsdale, as “the perfect nominee.”

The Council says the system is working better now than ever. It makes absolutely no sense at all to change it; to do so, we take a giant step backward.

This train wreck MUST be stopped! Please write to every Beaufort City Councilperson and voice your opinion strongly that “it ain’t broke, so please leave it alone.” Too much is at stake.

David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999, and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate Judge from 2010 to 2015. He may be contacted at david.m.taub42@gmail.com

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