12 May 2011 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 9 comments

Since the problem with Flat Run emerged, I’ve been deeply bothered by the complete and utter lack of urgency on the part of the BSF board and especially of its president, Joseph McKinney. From a preservation standpoint, this is an emergency of the highest order–the wanton destruction of core battlefield land. One would think that that would trigger a panicked reaction–and it did, with those of us who care about such things–but neither Mr. McKinney nor his board have responded.

I finally figured it out.

Mr. McKinney’s wife apparently thinks I’ve been unkind to her husband and fired an unsolicited e-mail to me this morning, just dripping with self-righteous anger. My first reaction to it was, “Well, I’ve touched a nerve here.”

I’ve been in the practice of law for 24 years now. For 22 of those 24 years, I’ve spent no less than half of my time doing business and real estate litigation. I’ve tried a bunch of cases along the way, including a few jury trials. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things. One of the things that I’ve learned is that I’m pretty good at getting people to tell me the things that I want to know.

In this instance, realizing that I had touched a nerve, I decided to see whether I could get Mrs. McKinney stoked up enough that she would tell me something useful. I composed a response to her that was intentionally rude and condescending. I wanted to see whether she would take my bait, and she did, big time. I got back another nasty e-mail, drowning in righteous indignation, and telling me what a horrible person I am. However, in that e-mail was precisely the little nugget of gold I hoped for: Mrs. McKinney informed me that Mr. Troilo, the person destroying Flat Run, is a good friend of hers (and presumably of her husband).

And there it was–my answer. It was now clear as day. The lack of a substantive response is the result of a major, if not irreconcilable, conflict of interest. Mr. McKinney, whether consciously or unconsciously, apparently thinks that maintaining his friendship with Mr. Troilo is more important than doing what he swore an oath to do.

A conflict of interest is “a situation in which a person has a private or personal interest sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties as, say, a public official, an employee, or a professional.” In my lawyer’s world, avoiding conflicts of interest is one of the major ethical obligations that I, as an attorney, have to fulfill. I cannot give the necessary loyalty to a client if I have a conflict of interest. If I have a conflict of interest, I either must get both sides to waive it in writing, or I have to step aside. In nearly all interests, I step aside for appearance sake.

Mr. McKinney has a very serious conflict of interest here, and rather than do the right thing, he has either chosen his friendship with Mr. Troilo, or he’s hoping to just avoid the issue and hope that if he does nothing, it will just go away. In either case, he is not putting the interests of the BSF first. Neither is acceptable. There are two steps here: either resign (which is the honorable thing to do), or step aside and let someone without a conflict of interest represent the interests of the Brandy Station Foundation.

What will you do, Mr. McKinney?

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  1. Jen
    Thu 12th May 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Nice job, Eric. Now, let’s see if Mr. McKinney finally chooses to do the honorable thing (since thus far he has obviously chosen not to). For the rest of America not to jump up and down about this desecration is disappointing but not unexpected. The fact that Mr. McKinney has been unresponsive is unforgivable.

  2. Fri 13th May 2011 at 1:18 am

    I think someone just got caught doing something that they hoped would never see the light of day. Oops.

    Good work, Eric. It’s time for the preservation community to start asking some tough questions and demand answers. You’ve done the initial work.

  3. Bob Huddleston
    Fri 13th May 2011 at 9:49 am

    Over the years I have discovered one of the hardest things for anyone is recognize a conflict of interest — especially if if involves friendship. Good work, Eric!

  4. Fri 13th May 2011 at 11:44 am

    Well done, Eric. Well done.

  5. Mike Brown
    Fri 13th May 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Well done, Eric. Maybe you can teach some of your investigation techniques to Mr. Nugent.

  6. Christ Liebegott
    Fri 13th May 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Is there anything in the by-laws that allow the membership or board members to impeach the president?

  7. Jeff Mancini
    Sat 14th May 2011 at 3:14 pm

    So Eric basically the BSF has been hijacked so that the local towing magnate can desicrate a portion of the battlefield. It is a recurring theme to Civil War Cavalry buffs. Witness the ham headed way that Henrico County handled zoning and development in and around Yellow Tavern. Each edict brought more infringement on this area relegating the now suburban Richmond shrine into a haven for area youth to swill beer and smoke pot on the weekends amid stacks of middle class housing tracts. A wonderful way to pay homage to Jeb Stuart’s legacy. A more noble application is the struggle to preserve the remaining cavalry battle sites is to examine the Trevilian Station Foundation’s work with officials in Louisa County. This lighter populated area manages to keep some semblance of decorum to the site but in a budget tight constrained world and occasional efforts to relegate the size of the site hats off to that group for its efforts. At Brandy Station the lenient disregard for a few things unsuitable (the McMansion) and a couple that is high handed and a bit too thin skinned to evoke a truly objective thought on protecting the battlefield the worse fears are coming into play: That the battlefield site is in imminent danger of being marginalized into a snippet, a sound byte not worthy of historical preservation. The battle and its participants are being eroded by a sub culture of disregard for its meaning. People are shocked and chagrined if infringements are made at Gettysburg, Antietam, Chattanooga etc. However, Brandy Station amid the splendor of the rolling green Northern Virginia Culpeper County countryside is getting an intensive blitz to roll up the battlefield into a tightly packaged half baked summary of what was the largest cavalry battle ever fought in North America. You can’t reconstitute the battlefield and ship it to Disney World. You can’t keep impugning the merit of this fight and you can’t let insensitive desecration of the area distort the terrain into private control and domain. BSF officials have a responsibiolity to protect the site and not allow the area to be exploited. It is not unreasonable to ask the parties to step away and re focus their visions away from the battlefield proper.

  8. Chuck
    Mon 16th May 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Thanks for keeping this in front of the Civil War Community.
    Mr. Mckinney’s ascendancy to the presidency of BSF is tragic. The battlefield is under constant threat and it certainly doesn’t need a passive preservation organization at times like these.
    That Bud Hall, and those board members who resigned with him in protest of Mr. McKinney’s nomination had to move to protect the battlefield without any support whatsoever from the current president and board of BSF is a travesty.
    In terms of protecting the battlefield the present BSF is useless.
    As one of those who served on the Board when Bud Hall was President, I can assure you we ‘exiled’ members take seriously the trust given to us to fight for the battlefield. We feel that we speak for the battlefield on behalf of the soldiers who fought and died there that can no longer speak for themselves. If we don’t, who will….certainly not Joe McKinney.
    The current BSF board might abandon their obligations but we will continue to fight for the battlefield with or without their help.
    Those of you who are current members and care about the battlefield we need you to speak up now. Write the board of BSF asking for the resignation of Joe McKinney and a firm, public reaffirmation of its guiding principle to protect the battlefield. It is our fervent hope that in time BSF will return to its preservation roots and fight with us for the battlefield.

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