Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why I Left the Brandy Station Foundation Board of Directors

Today at Brandy Station: The past six months

What follows are the events which surrounded my departure from the Board of Directors of the Brandys Station Foundation.  The final straw which led to my resignation was Tony Troilo's attempt to dam Flat Run and the BSF actions.

The United States Corps of Engineers has drafted a Memorandum of Agreement concerning the course of action to be taken regarding a pond that has been constructed by Tony Troilo by his damming Flat Run. Flat Run crosses in front of the base of Fleetwood Hill on the Brandy Station Battlefield, I will not post the MOA on this blog, I suspect it will be posted on a number of websites as well as being reported in local newspapers.
Simply stated, the MOA requires Mr. Troilo to repair all the damage he has done to Flat Run, restoring it to its original condition; and within 60 days of completion of this project, convey 3.1 acres of land (along Flat Run) to the Brandy Station Foundation. The MOA has a number of stipulations and contingencies. It was signed by: The Corps of Engineers, Tony Troilo, Virginia State Histories Preservation, The Brandy Station Foundation, and Clark B. Hall.
The good news is the BSF will receive an additional 3.1 acres of core battlefield. But, what did they do to earn it? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
I love the Brandy Station Battlefield. Not because of the fight on June 9, 1863, but more for everything else that happened in and around this area. There are many fine scholars who have written and lectured on the largest cavalry battle in North America, but I choose different areas of study. I have a great understanding of the June 9 fight, the land, personalities and the tactical and strategic results of that momentous fight. But for me, the fight at Rappahannock Station and Kelly’s Ford on November 7, 1863 is ‘my battle.’ I am also fascinated with the Army of the Potomac’s Winter Encampment of 1863-64. There are 120,000 stories waiting to be told, and it is my goal to tell them.
So I care about the land, the structures and the history. Those who have heard me talk on these subjects comment on the passion in which I speak. If I could retire from my current job today and devote my energies to this activity, I would.
I joined the BSF as a volunteer at the Graffiti House in the spring of 2004, learning the history of the house and the stories these charcoal writings on a wall have to tell. I expanded my love quickly to the events that swirled around the house between 1861 and 1865. After a year, I was asked and accepted a position on the Foundation’s Board of Directors.
While serving on that body, I became a vocal advocate for preservation of the land, saving the house and its graffiti, and educational outreach to anyone who would pause to hear what stories the land and house gave forth. I loved doing this then, as I love it today.
The heart break and extreme disappointment I went through regarding Tony Troilo’s pond and the Board of Directors actions was seen by family and many of my friends.
Just how did we get to this point in time?
I have never commented on this blog about the damming of Flat Run by Tony Troilo and my resulting resignation from the Board of Directors of the Brandy Station Foundation. Now that the Memorandum of Agreement between the key parties involved has been signed and the Brandy Station Foundation has made an announcement of the results, I feel it is time for me to comment. I was a member of the Board of Directors of the Brandy Station Foundation from the spring of 2005 until May 19, 2011.
The BSF has made a statement of its version of the Troilo pond events as they unfolded and the result. I will not comment on their statement, but leave it for you and others to read and interpret. The Foundation’s statement may be found on the Brandy Station Foundation webpage: http://www.brandystationfoundation.com/
In May of this year, Tony Troilo, in violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and United Stated Corps of Engineer regulations, destroyed approximately 666 linear feet of Flat Run, a perennial stream, in order to construct a pond on his property. His action resulted in the deposition of excavated fill soil along his property and the property of the Brandy Station Foundation, which is also held in historic preservation and open space easement by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources.

The action was identified and reported on by Bud Hall, immediate past president of the Brandy Station Foundation. He was made aware of the situation and surveyed the activity and as an individual passionate about the protection of the Brandy Station battlefield. Bud contacted the Corps of Engineers to report the incident. Almost immediately the Corps of Engineers delivered a ‘cease and desist’ order to Mr. Troilo. It was, admittedly unfortunate timing, as the notice was delivered the week of the death of Tony’s father.
In an email he sent to the BSF Board of Directors, on May 12, 2011, Joe McKinney, President of the Brandy Station Foundation, laid out his thoughts to the Board on the pond. I have highlighted Joe’s ‘hope’ regarding this issue:
“Troilo Pond. This is the wild card issue. As of this afternoon, the dam is virtually complete and

the pond is filling. There may be some spillway work still to do. There are a lot of variables: county permit requirements; CoE inspection brought on by Bud; continuing ire from readers of [Eric] Wittenberg’s blog [http://civilwarcavalry.com/]; possible backlash among local citizens. I will keep you posted on all information I receive. I hope that we do not have to spend too much time on this. If anyone on the board believes that we should intervene immediately, notify all the board members via email. Be specific: establish goals; lay out courses of action to achieve those goals; identify specific tasks resident in each course of actions; assess potential gains and risks; estimate financial costs, if any.”
Joe’s states of his leadership vision on this issue. He directs the board: “If anyone on the board believes that we should intervene immediately, notify all the board members via email. Be specific: establish goals; lay out courses of action to achieve those goals; identify specific tasks resident in each course of actions; assess potential gains and risks; estimate financial costs, if any.”
Joe leadership, as can be seen above, is to pass the issue on to the board and not to assume, as the elected President of the BSF, his role as the Foundation’s leader. Joe McKinney is stating to the board that he wants nothing to do with the pond, and if any board member wants to intervene, they must: develop the plan goals – course of action – identify specific tasks – assess gain and risk – and the cost. Then, we’ll come up with a plan and it will be duly considered. “Duly considered.” In other words, do it yourself, I do not want to get involved
The same evening, in an email to the BSF Board, I responded to Joe’s call for inaction:

“A official position from the Foundation I feel is required. I understand your reluctance to become involved in an issue on private property. … Our stated goal is preservation of the battlefield. If Tony is indeed in violation of laws, then as advocates to the battlefield, the Brandy Station Foundation needs to be involved. Sitting on the sidelines on an issue literally in our faces will I fears harm the Foundation. As for a detailed course of action, I don't have one. Do you have a specific goal? Have you, as President, begun to lay out courses of action? This is why we, as a board, need to get together and formulate such a plan. Individually, we will be unsuccessful, but as a group, a single unit, we have a better chance of addressing this problem… I look to you as the President of the Foundation to take the lead on this issue.”
Joe, called to task, responded two hours later:
“Mike raises some good points to think about. However, Mike, you have more information than me if you [have] accurate information that Tony did not get proper permits to enlarge his pond. Second, I don’t know if any determination has been made that he is in violation of any environmental laws. Those are two pretty key questions that must be nailed down before we proceed (in my view).
Regarding goals. A goal might be that Tony destroys his dam and drains the pond. A feasible course of action would be that we progressively go to county planning, then to the BOS, then to court. We have to pay legal costs, risk losing good will in the local community, but might gain the praise of Eric Wittenberg and those who read his blog. If we win in court, we might have to pay to restore the status quo ante. Not a course of action to be taken lightly.
Another goal might be to put out a position statement (refer to the bylaws) that expresses our preference for leaving the land the way it was, but doesn’t take substantive action to correct what one person sees as an “unmitigated disaster.” This is easy, we write the statement and post it cost-free on our website. It will probably will not satisfy our critics, but probably will not make us any enemies.
A third course of action might be that we simply lay out the facts: what the law and regulations state regarding property and ponds; where the property lines lie; what options were available to us; what we did/did not do; and, why.
…it is important that we all think seriously about this. In my view, before we go any further, I think it best that we determine if Tony Troilo violated any land use regulations, environment law, or whatnot.
A final point. It is easy to say that our goal is to protect the battlefield and that we should all rally to that battle cry. However, as board members it is our responsibility to act for the good of the BSF. Should we pick the wrong fight, or pick the right fight but mismanage it, we put our organization at risk. We might all pat ourselves on the back for taking a stand, but if in the process we become insolvent we lose everything we have fought for over the years. It is a serious responsibility.”

Joe, in the above email, has told me:

1. I have more information on the issue than he does. (I had more information because I conducted some research and asked questions)

2. He did not know if a determination had been made regarding a violation. (which told me that he hadn’t bothered to do any research in this matter)

3. Joe, in his ‘goals’ paragraph, sets a course that the Foundation ‘progressively go[es] to county planning, then to the BOS, then to court. We have to pay legal costs, risk losing good will in the local community,’ and, ‘If we win in court, we might have to pay to restore the status quo ante.’ (I would have to put the Foundation ‘at risk’ as well as stick my neck out a little)

4. He continues: ‘put out a position statement that expresses our preference for leaving the land the way it was, but doesn’t take substantive action to correct what one person sees as an “unmitigated disaster.” This is easy, we write the statement and post it cost-free on our website. It probably will not satisfy our critics, but probably will not make us any enemies. (This was the eventual course, doing his best not to make waves with Tony Troilo. Please note that Joe chose, in his words, the easy way)

5. Lay out the facts. As the facts were laid out and became known, Joe continued to press for a position statement. He was essentially, burying the BSF’s head into the sand and pretending there wasn’t an issue

6. Determine if indeed Tony Troilo violated any land use regulations, environmental law, & whatnot. (When it was determined the Tony violated regulations, law and whatnot, Joe McKinney and the BSF continued to ignore the situation)

7. Act responsibly as Board Members to act for the good of the BSF. (By Joe’s inaction, the Board has acted in bad faith. The decision to pick a wrong or right fight –it is interesting that he chose wrong first – is a decision that was required to be made. The President made no decision)

8. Make the wrong decision and become insolvent. (I guess he was afraid that if the Board took on Tony Troilo that Tony would sue the Foundation, we would lose and be no more. Another example of Joe leading)

9. Joe was correct in that it is a ‘serious responsibility.’ A responsibility that he chose not to take.
The same day, in an email to a former BSF board member, who asked Joe what was going on along Flat Run, Joe responded thus:
“Last week Mr. Troilo began work to expand his pond. There are a few dozers at work moving earth at present. The property that the pond is on is adjacent to our property on Wyndham’s approach to Fleetwood. I’ve checked the boundary between Mr. Troilo’s property and ours on the county’s GIS, and am satisfied that he has not encroached on our land.”

Joe, never asked or surveyed (until questioned) what Tony was doing on Fleetwood Hill, even though he states he saw “a few dozers at work moving earth.” Joe was also incorrect. Tony Troilo had indeed encroached on BSF and VDHR property.
To my knowledge, neither a legal consult nor conversation with the Corps of Engineers took place with the BSF during May, 2011.

The following day, in an email to the board, which included the initial draft of the eventual policy letter, Joe stated, “In his email last night, Mike opined that I have not of yet provided sufficient leadership regarding the pond issue. In fairness, he is correct.” I give Joe points for admitting that up to this point, he had reneged on his position as Foundation President. His decided to craft and publish a “Brandy Station Position on Landowner Improvements and Agricultural Activities.”
The draft made the rounds of the Board for a number of days, being crafted, edited and word-smithed. Many of the Board members chose not to respond, saying it was OK with them. In other words, abstain from the issue. I give credit to the members of the Board who actually read the letter and commented, whatever their opinion was. They at least stepped up to the issue and formed an opinion. The end-result, in my opinion, was incorrect, and detrimental to the Foundation. The Foundations position is posted on the BSF website, under the tab “About Us,” then “Position Papers.”
Seeing that the position paper supported the cause of the landowner, to the detriment of the BSF, and not the preservation of the land the BSF is chartered to protect, as well as be and advocate for and steward of, I resigned the Board of Directors of the Brandy Station Foundation. Those Civil War Roundtables and other organizations that have heard me speak of Lake Troilo know well my frustration, disappointment and sadness in this action. I was and have been very disappointed with Joe McKinney’s leadership as President of the Brandy Station Foundation, then as I am now.

If it had not been for the actions of Bud Hall, and others, Flat Run would be dammed, the pond filled and the land forever altered. If it had not been for Bud Hall the BSF would not be crowing about their three additional acres. Did the announcement give credit to Bud or anyone who opposed Tony Troilo's actions? Of course not, and they never will under the current Foundation leadership.

Where does the Brandy Station Foundation go from here? I do not know, time will tell. But let us hope that someone is watching over the land, for the Brandy Station Foundation is not.

2 comments:

  1. Mike,

    Thanks for sharing those e-mails with us. The failure of the BSF board and officers to do their sworn duty to preserve and protect the battlefield is appalling, and to see how lightly the president took the greatest threat to the battlefield since the land was acquired is especially horrifying.

    I honor and respect you for taking a stand and doing what was morally correct in the face of such moral failure.

    Eric

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  2. This part of the last email is telling: "Should we pick the wrong fight, or pick the right fight but mismanage it, we put our organization at risk."

    It's one thing to take precautions, it is another to allow those precautions to become the course of action. I'd submit in the case of Fleetwood Hill, BSF chose not to make the right fight and has put the organization (and battlefield) at risk.

    Thanks again Mike for setting the record straight on this issue and making this stand.

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