[LETTER] Former Councilman Speaks Out About Museum Issues

By David Szilagyi

I would like to address a full page advertisement which had been placed in the Amboy Guardian by MOPA and the significant number of inaccuracies which it contained.

First I must point out that several months ago I addressed the City Council about the smear campaign being waged by MOPA against the members of the Proprietary House Association in an effort to take control of that group. Mrs. Depow wrote a letter to the paper which stated that they had no such intention; clearly that statement was not true.

This is a fairly complicated story and for the sake of time and space I will touch on the highlights. If anyone is interested in more details or supporting documentation please contact me. I am not hard to find.

First some background, Museums of Perth Amboy (MOPA) was formed by Mayor Diaz to coordinate and promote the historical groups in the city of which there are four, The Kearney Cottage and the Ferry Slip Museum, a third is under construction in the Surveyor Generals Office and the Proprietary House which has agreed to take part in the cross promotion of events at the other locations.

The Proprietary House Association is a chartered non-profit founded in the 1970’s to promote and preserve the Proprietary House. It operates the Proprietary House Museum under a lease agreement with the State of New Jersey which owns the building. This group in the past has not been part of city government but has always made the building available to the city when they had requested it.

Why then is there a conflict now? Some time ago a past president of the association was removed for cause and he and some of his associates joined and became active in MOPA. These people are bitter and seek to lash out at and hopefully remove those who are currently in charge of the association. You may think that this is a lot of energy being expended over who is going to run a small museum, this leads us to the question of the elephant in the room, Assembly Bill A1581 and Senate Bill 1820, these bills state that they would grant $3,279,459 to the Proprietary House Association. It’s about the money folks; the problem is there isn’t any money.

Some more background. In 2009 the $3,279,459 represented all on the money in the State Historic Trust Fund, that is all of the money that the state had available for historic preservation for the entire state. The money in this fund is provided when a question is placed on the ballot and the voters agree to sell bonds to fund historic preservation in the state. This question appeared several years ago and $12,000,000 was approved for the fund, by 2009 only $3,279,459 was left. I know a little about the political process and do not think it is very likely that you could get enough votes in the legislature to give very last dime of this fund to a small group in Perth Amboy.

These bills were reintroduced earlier this year and had been in committee ever since, the only sponsors are the legislators for the 19th district. I would thank them for their concern and efforts, but the people who approached them about these bills mislead them as to how best to proceed to help the Proprietary House. If these funds were by some chance to be granted they would be administered by the Historic Trust which has both funding limits $50,000 for programs and $700,000 for construction and guild lines for how to qualify for funding.

Lastly there are two other issues which would be issues under this funding, the Proprietary House is in need of extensive repair but the association is only a tenant on the first two floors of a building owned by the state. If you want to repair and restore the house you should increase the State Parks Department maintenance budget and have them fix the building. Secondly the Historic Trust has announced a new round of grants for this year in the amount of $1,100,000. This leaves $2,179,459, it seems no one told them they going to be giving all of their funding away.

Several months ago in anticipation of receiving this money MOPA drew up a wish list. In addition to making repairs to a building owned by the state, they had a plan to buy and demolish all of the homes around the House in order to create a park and parking spaces. The first question is, if you were to spend the money to purchase and demolish the homes and then landscape the property, who is going to pay to maintain it and in a City with the financial problems of Perth Amboy do we really want to wipe out tens of thousands of dollars in ratables to create a parking lot?

In this wish list presented by MOPA there was also to be funding provided for their three other projects. I had stated to the City Council that if this bill were to pass and the funds were provided to the Association, any money that was passed to either MOPA or their projects they would be violating 2C:27-12, Crime of corruption of public resources, which in this case would be a crime of the second degree.

It should be clear that those in charge of the promotion of the historic nature of the city have little understanding of historic preservation, the funding of preservation or of the needs of a city such as Perth Amboy; they seek only to gain control of what they believe to be a large sum of money.

I will now turn to the restoration work that has been done in the House. It is true the Mr. Hogan spent a lot of time and a lot of money redecorating the first floor. It is also true that the house was toured by the 19th district legislators who admired the work that was done. That does not mean that they approved the work that was done. The lease in effect for the use of the House states that any work done in the House must reflect the historical aspects of the house and be approved before work starts by the Office of New Jersey Heritage and the New Jersey Historical Sites Council. There had been an extensive study done to develop a historically accurate plan for the painting and decorating of the House. Mr. Hogan was advised by a local historian that what he was doing was not in accord with that plan and did not reflect the history of the House. He chose to ignore this advice and continued as he wished.

The current leadership of the Association brought in a professional contractor who is associated with a local home improvement center. The opinion of this contractor and other people associated with the home improvement center was that not only was the work not done in accordance with the prior study, but that the work was of substandard quality and in fact structural damage had been to the house during the redecoration process. They recommended that the damage be repaired and the entire process be redone. The Association then cooperation of the home improvement center which agreed to underwrite the entire restoration program.

If you were to visit the Museum today you will see the historically correct work done by this contractor with materials donated by the improvement center at no cost the Association or the state. The Proprietary House Museum stands in the best shape that it has ever been in since it was designated a historical site and the Association is attempting to put on a series of programs that will be of interest to the entire community. The Association is working hard to fulfill its mission to preserve and promote the Museum and are more than willing to work with the city in an effort to promote the history of our community. They should not the subject to continued attacks by MOPA and members of the city administration

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