Todd Berkoff, one of the board members of the Brandy Station Foundation who resigned because of the election of Joseph McKinney, left this particularly astute and insightful comment here yesterday. It explains why Mr. McKinney needs to resign as president of the BSF. The reasons are simple: he is not interested in preserving the battlefield.
As one of the board members of The Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) for 2010-2011 who resigned in protest over Mr. Joseph McKinney’s elevation to president, I can tell you that I, along with my other colleagues who resigned, assessed last month–before he led the group–that Mr. McKinney was not interested in making the protection of the battlefield a priority. And the other board members were more interested in allowing ghost hunters to look for “ghost cats” in the Grafitti House than protect a battlefield where young men gave their last full measure of devotion. I’m not even kidding about the ghost cat…there is paranormal group investigating the house this month.
The “Board in Exile” made this prediction about Mr. McKinney and his new direction for the BSF over four weeks ago — and now our fears and predictions have come true. However, I am surprised–and elated–it took as little as three weeks for him to show his true colors. I don’t want to say “We told you so,” but guess what folks, “We told you so!”
Some of us did research on Mr. McKinney during the nomination process earlier this year and soon discovered he had a twisted view of historic preservation. See his perplexing op-ed in the Washington Post from 2009, and his posting on this blog last year defending the McMansion on Fleetwood Hill. It is unclear to me how a man who leads one of the country’s oldest battlefield preservation groups could condone Disney’s America theme park, the Wal-Mart at the Wilderness, the McMansion on Fleetwood Hill, the widening of Route 3 in Stevensburg, and also participates in massive relic hunts on the very battlefield he was charged to protect. Yes, folks, he is a relic hunter too.
A recurring theme in Mr. McKinney’s strange argument for his stances on preservation is that we, as good citizens, are powerless to do anything against what landowners wish to do on their own property, so why bother making a fuss. Well sir, that is where you are wrong. As Bud Hall demonstrated this week, you can require the landowner to abide by proper regulations — which the landowner had not done.
If people took your appeasement view on preservation, then there would be a mall at Manassas, a casino at Gettysburg, and a racetrack at Brandy Station. As a result of the quick actions taken by the “Board in Exile” this week–led by the indomitable Bud Hall–the Army Corps of Engineers has compelled Mr. Troilo to cease further construction of his pond that rumor has it was intended for his jet skiing hobby. Stopped at least for now.
How embarrassing that the current president and board FAILED MISERABLY to even issue a simple statement of protest over the last two weeks! But more alarming is that Mr. McKinney knew about this project for some time and chose to not to oppose it because Mr. Troilo is a friend and influential member of the community. This is a clear conflict of interest, as Eric has rightly pointed out. Mr. McKinney and current members of the Board should be ashamed of themselves, and if you had any integrity whatsoever, you should resign from the organization and join the local crochet group and leave battlefield preservation to those who actually care.
Because I think it’s important that you see Mr. McKinney’s own words, here is the op-ed piece from The Washington Post that Todd mentioned:
Posted at 9:58 AM ET, 08/ 6/2009
If Not Wal-Mart… ?
By washingtonpost.com editors
By Joseph W. McKinney
The controversy over the “Wilderness Wal-Mart” proposed in Virginia’s Orange County reminds me of the time in the 1990s when the Walt Disney Co. proposed building a theme park in western Prince William County.
The site that Disney selected was not historically significant, but it was only a few miles from the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Preservationists, concerned that increased traffic and sprawl would degrade the experience of visitors to the battlefield, rose in opposition.
After intense lobbying and public relations campaigns waged by both sides, Disney canceled its plans.
Today, instead of Disney’s theme park, residential developments line Route 15 from Haymarket to the Loudoun County line. Along Route 55, Gainesville and Haymarket have essentially merged, joined together by retail establishments and housing. Instead of tourists, the roads — including those running through the Manassas battlefield — are choked with commuters.
The drive along the base of the Bull Run Mountains used to be pleasurable. Now it is stultifying. I support battlefield preservation, and I even wrote a book about the Battle of Brandy Station, but sometimes, as I sit in traffic on the way to Leesburg, I think we might have been better off with the theme park instead of the houses.
That leads me to wonder: If Wal-Mart is not acceptable near the Wilderness battlefield, what is? Is a strip mall better than a Wal-Mart? What about 500 single-family dwellings? The people of Orange County deserve an answer to these questions as the review of Wal-Mart’s proposal proceeds.
By washingtonpost.com editors | August 6, 2009; 9:58 AM ET
This, coming from the man who is supposed to be the head of a battlefield preservation organization? Do these words suggest that he cares even the slightest bit about saving the battlefield?
And finally, I give you a piece of one of the nasty e-mails that I received from Mrs. McKinney last week that spells out the family’s preservation philosophy quite clearly and quite succinctly:
As an avid foxhunter and as a resident in the community of Brandy Station, I understand that in Virginia, land ownership is everything. The rights of landowners to do what they wish with their own property trumps everything. That is an acknowledged fact. If someone wants a landowner to listen to his opinion on what he should do with his own land, he had better be prepared to reason with him.
Were this true, the Brandy Station battlefield would either be a Formula-1 racetrack or an industrial park now. Were this true, the Wilderness would have a gigantic Wal-Mart store being built. Were this true, there would be an immense Disney theme park butting up against the Bull Run battlefield, overwhelming an area where the road network already can’t handle the volume of traffic it must sustain. Were this true, all of the Cedar Creek battlefield would be a rock quarry now. I could go on, but you get the idea. The fact is that Mrs. McKinney’s claim that the rights of landowners to do what they wish with their property trumps everything is clearly NOT true, as the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers plainly demonstrated yesterday. Battlefield preservation is NOT about appeasement, as the McKinneys believe. It’s about being aggressive and being proactive and doing whatever has to be done to prevent the destruction of core battlefield land, and if someone’s feathers gets ruffled in the process, that’s too damned bad. In the view of the McKinneys, feather-ruffling is apparently something to be avoided at all costs, even if it means that core battlefield land at the base of Fleetwood Hill is turned into a lake because the good friend of the McKinneys who owns the land has to be appeased at ALL costs.
This bizarre laissez-faire attitude of Mr. McKinney plainly and amply demonstrates that this man is NOT committed to battlefield preservation unless it promotes fox-hunting or doesn’t annoy the local landowners. That’s not how to save a battlefield. You do whatever has to be done, and if that means calling the Army Corps of Engineers and annoying the neighbors, it’s what you do.
I think it is entirely possible that REAL battlefield preservation organizations, such as the Civil War Trust, will completely disavow and disenfranchise the BSF unless these wrong-headed and ill-advised policies are abandoned, and that would be a disaster.
Mix in the huge and irreconcilable conflict of interest that I pointed out here last week, and it becomes painfully clear that this man has NO business heading the BSF, and that his continued leadership of it will cause irreparable harm to an organization that has a twenty-plus year record of tremendous success in saving battlefield land that resulted from active and aggressive action and leadership.
Mr. McKinney, it’s time for you to either resign or to limit yourself to simply running the Graffiti House and leave the real work of preserving the battlefield to those of us who have the nerve and the fire in our bellies to do it.
UPDATE, 6:30 P.M.: Below are three photographs of Lake Troilo taken this afternoon after a long day of heavy rain. If there wasn’t a major erosion problem before, there most assuredly is now. Shame on you, Joe McKinney, and shame on you, BSF board, for sitting on your hands and allowing this sort of desecration to happen without so much as making a peep about it. Resign. Now.