Thoughts on a Meeting, and Leadership

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last night several Friends of Bowne members attended the meeting of Manhattan Community Board 1 in the community room of Southbridge Towers, near the Seaport Museum. In hopes that the museum’s chairman, Frank Sciame, or president, Mary Pelzer, would appear, turnout for the meeting was large and included many activists from Save our Seaport. After an exasperating, curious round of community business that included a discussion of rodentology and bike paths, the agenda turned to museum matters.

Needless to say, we were all disappointed that Mr. Sciame and Ms. Pelzer did not show up. Sciame was receiving an award from the American Institute of Architects that night and he and Ms. Pelzer decided that a letter to the community, which was read aloud, was sufficient. The letter, in neutral language, repeated what we have been told before: the museum is in negotiations with the city to fix its financial troubles and reopen. Once these plans are further along, they will share them with the community.

After witnessing last night’s meeting, one can imagine why Sciame and Pelzer would refrain from attending. The feisty, defensive crowd was ready to lay into any representative of higher power and seemed to believe that they receive only half-truths and outright lies about any city- or corporate-planned project in their neighborhood.

By continuing to keep their planning opaque, the Seaport Museum and the city only fuel the frustration, anger, and speculation of the former volunteers, employees, and community members who have a vision of what the museum could be and who want to be helpful. If this lack of communication continues, the museum administration will face mounting ill will, even if they succeed in restoring the museum and no matter how clever and appropriate their solution. They will also make a future appearance at meetings like this more embarrassing for themselves.

Not surprisingly, anger quickly surfaced during the call for comments and questions from attendees: “We’re being too polite,” said one woman, and another called upon us to “make more noise.” A former ship volunteer stood up and demanded that “forensic accounting” be focused on the museum’s books in order to uncover the fiscal corruption that he suggested is behind the museum’s collapse. Interestingly, the Community Board member who is also on the Museum’s board, Harold Reed, scowled at this comment and shook his head slightly (it is, by the way, one of the stranger aspects of the meeting that he sat there listening to all of this yet said nothing and was asked nothing). Photographer Barbara Mensch stood and drew our attention to several men in suits in the back of the room who were from the Howard Hughes Corporation, suggesting they should explain their role in plans for the neighborhood and museum. Disappointingly, they never spoke nor were asked any questions directly.

The museum, city, and mysterious others involved in the real estate game at the Seaport are treating us like noisy, bothersome children, to be silenced with a condescending pat on the head and a “because I said so,” much like Robert Moses treated the housewives who resisted his presumptuous plans for lower Manhattan. This isn’t good parenting and it isn’t good leadership.

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