10 November 2008 by Published in: Rants 12 comments

Although Kevin Levin disagrees with me, I remain convinced that there is something inherently inappropriate and a conflict of interest in the hiring of John Latschar to become the new head of the Gettysburg Foundation.

From Saturday’s edition of The Gettysburg Times:

What will be Latschar’s legacy?

Published: Saturday, November 8, 2008 1:44 PM EST
BY SCOT ANDREW PITZER

Times Staff Writer

Love him or hate him, one thing about John Latschar’s tenure as superintendent at Gettysburg National Military Park is certain — he will be remembered.

“My legacy is up for other people to decide,” Latschar said Friday, the day he announced he was leaving his post after 14 years on the job.

Latschar came to town in the mid-1990s with a vision: to restore the 6,000 acre battlefield to the way it looked in 1863, when the Battle of Gettysburg was fought here.

Some of the ideas — like white tail deer management, one way roads, and tree removal — seemed bogus at the time.

Other proposals, such as the $103 million Battlefield Visitor Center along the Baltimore Pike, have just come to fruition.

“When he came, the fireworks started,” said Gettysburg Borough Council President Dick Peterson, who was a Steinwehr Avenue businessman at the time. “But in a peculiar way, it brought the community together.”

Latschar announced Friday that he’s resigning effective March 1, 2009, to take over as president of the Gettysburg Foundation, the park’s non-profit fundraising partner. Acting foundation President Robert C. Wilburn is resigning at the same time, and plans to pursue other career options.

“One word describes Dr. Latschar when I think of his attributes: brilliant,” said Main Street Board of Directors Chairman Bill Kough. “His priorities are family, country, history and community.”

The battlefield boss has developed a legion of critics over the years.

“It’s not unexpected that he’s going over to the foundation,” said Steinwehr Avenue entrepreneur Eric Uberman. “He’s never going to leave.”

Some long-time opponents of the Latschar regime are questioning the legalities of his career move.

“It’s a blatant conflict of interests. I’m just flabbergasted that he’s trying to do this,” said Franklin Silbey, an historic preservationist. “He presided over the creation of the General Management Plan, he presided over the supposed competitive bidding process for the visitor center, he presided over the creation of the Gettysburg Foundation, and he presided over the project. Now he’s going to work for the company that he created, for triple the amount of money that he’s making now.”

Under Latschar’s watch, the park adopted a General Management Plan in 1999, which laid out a long-term vision for the battlefield. The plan’s primary project, a new battlefield visitor center, generated immediate controversy.

“We started at arms length, the first time we had any interaction with him,” said Gettysburg Borough Councilman Ted Streeter, a veteran board member. “But honestly, we gained a lot of respect for each other over the years.”

Borough Council Vice President Holliday Giles spoke highly of the man who she feels was instrumental in several downtown restoration projects, including the Gettysburg Railroad Station and David Wills House.

“Whatever project John Latschar takes on, especially with the Borough of Gettysburg, it is very apparent that he uses all of his expertise and knowledge for all to benefit,” Giles said Friday.

Peterson was one of Latschar’s most vocal adversaries in the 1990s, when the park first announced plans to relocate the visitor center from the Steinwehr Avenue business corridor to the Baltimore Pike. Now, he considers Latschar a friend.

“He’s taken a lot of criticism over the years and he’s survived,” said Peterson. “He’s changed and we’ve changed. Twenty years from now, we won’t even remember all of the controversy. We’ll remember John for his vision and what was accomplished here.”

Latschar may have been an intimidating figure over the years, but local leaders maintain that he’s generally been very approachable.

“We were always able to sit down and come to a mutual understanding that was beneficial and positive to our township,” said Cumberland Township Board of Supervisors Chairman John P. Gregor.

Latschar has been superintendent of the park since 1994, and is a 31-year veteran of the National Park Service. He previously served as the first Superintendent of Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa., and in various capacities at the park’s Denver Service Center. Latschar was named Superintendent of the Year for the Northeast Region in 1991 and in 2001.

In my mind, the quote from Franklin Silbey says all that needs to be said.

Personally, I’m glad I was never fleeced into donating a dime for Latschar’s Folly, aka the new Visitor’s Center. Now, I’m REALLY glad I didn’t do so.

Sorry, Kevin, but I vigorously disagree with you on this one.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Brian S.
    Mon 10th Nov 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Eric,

    Just wow. Speechless. He must be making enough to have no shame at all. Brian

  2. Mon 10th Nov 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Eric, my sentiments are in line with yours here. Sadly I don’t think this as a singular occurrence these days. I could take any number of events from the headlines at local, state and national levels which mirror this.

  3. Dave Powell
    Mon 10th Nov 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I am confused. How come standard government rules against conflict-of-interest don’t apply here?

    When a ranger I knew left his park to accept a college-level teaching job, he informed me that he could not accept money for a battlefield tour at his old park for 24 months because of conflict of interest restrictions.

    How can Latcher leave GNMP, and then immediately take a job at the Foundation?

    Dave Powell

  4. Sean Dail
    Mon 10th Nov 2008 at 4:44 pm

    The shamelessness is rather amazing, isn’t? One might hope that the folks who have been defending Latschar in the controversy over the visitor center would have their eyes opened by this development, but the initial indications are that they are defending their hero once again.

  5. Steve Basic
    Mon 10th Nov 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Eric,

    This quote from the article bothered me. “Twenty years from now, we won’t even remember all of the controversy. We’ll remember John for his vision and what was accomplished here.” IMHO, controversy has accompanied Mr. Latschar’s reign since he first step foot in Gettysburg. Am sorry Mr. Peterson, but I’ll remember.

    Am all for the changes done to the battlefield, and I have no problem in saluting Latschar’s involvement with that, but this news reconfirms my feelings on the Gettysburg Foundation. I never signed up or donated money either, as I had many questions about this since the beginning of this process and those questions were never answered.

    IIRC, the main reason why a new VC was “needed” was to have space to show all of the Gettysburg related stuff that could not be displayed in the old place. That ain’t the case folks, and not right either.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve

  6. Tom Thompson
    Mon 10th Nov 2008 at 11:49 pm

    Eric,
    I don’t have a dog in this fight. But from the perspective of non-profit organizations, it is quite common for the most involved founders to accept the staff role of operating the organization. Mothers most involved in birthing a child usually play a major role in caring for and nurturing the baby.

    Perhaps there is something more than meets the eye in this situation. But I see no shame, no conflict, nor any breech of faith for this man to move on to a new position where he feels he can play a meaningful role, AND make more money than he did as a government staffer.

  7. Tue 11th Nov 2008 at 10:57 pm

    I guess one thing I’m wondering about — put aside for the moment all the possible conflicts of interest — is Latschar really the guy who should be heading what amounts to the fund raising arm? I have no doubt that he is a capable administrator and I am a big fan of returning the battlefield to as close to it’s original appearance as possible. That said, Latschar seems to be a very polarizing figure. Even just observing forums and discussions on the web, he seems to have made a lot of enemies among buffs, townspeople, guides, etc. That much seems undeniable.

    There are only so many people and so many dollars for Civil War projects. There are a lot of choices where you can give your dollars — if you dislike the Gettysburg Foundation or how it’s managed, you can donate to the Civil War Preservation Trust, Adams County Historical Society, even the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association. Given that there is a lot of choice for what folks can do with their money, I personally wouldn’t want someone controversial and who has already alienated portions of the potential donating public to be serving as the top figure for my fund raising arm. Just my opinion.

  8. Jim Epperson
    Wed 12th Nov 2008 at 12:29 pm

    FWIW, there is an article in the Hanover paper which says Latscher cleared taking this job with the DoI ethics panel.

  9. Deb
    Wed 12th Nov 2008 at 1:09 pm

    The most disheartening part of this article is that the salary is 3 times more than the superintendant salaray… sounds like a For Profit Oranganization. Just another reason for me not to be a fan or donator to the GF.

  10. Brooks Simpson
    Wed 12th Nov 2008 at 2:58 pm

    Setting aside my other reactions to this news, I agree with Jenny that John Latschar has become a polarizing figure. That’s not to say that by now the articles coming out of Gettysburg are assuming a predictable pattern in terms of who is quoted and what they say.

    None of this is going away any time soon.

  11. Steve Basic
    Thu 13th Nov 2008 at 2:44 am

    As to the conflict of interests, this was posted on CW Interactive today, and will share the link to the article.

    http://www.eveningsun.com/ci_10955323

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve

  12. Thu 13th Nov 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Regardless of the salary, I can’t imagine giving up a full time Rangering job!

    Mannie
    (the Pollyanna)

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