BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council finally approved the appointment of five people to serve on the newly formed Colonial Theatre Board last week after tabling a decision on the matter twice.
However, prior to the vote taking place at council’s April 20 meeting, mayor Robbie Skinner expressed his disapproval with a discussion that took place at a prior council meeting regarding the appointments to the board, and in particular, comments city architect and ART 26201 member Bryson VanNostrand made about a member of council.
At council’s Thursday April 15 meeting, VanNostrand said city councilwoman Pam Bucklew was “not qualified” to serve on the board after she expressed an interest in doing so, and he asked that city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins or city councilman CJ Rylands fill the slot instead.
The decision was ultimately tabled, but at the outset of the discussion on the matter at the April 20 meeting, Skinner said some interactions at the past several city council meetings have been disrespectful and at times, not professional.
“Folks may not always agree with the decisions that we make up here, but these decisions [regarding board appointments] have to command respect,” Skinner said. “We, as council members, must also maintain that same level of respect and professionalism as an example to the community, and we may not always agree with one another and that’s OK … because we all have our reasons for believing what we believe about the issues that are important to our community, but I want us to keep that in mind.”
Skinner said council needs to set a better example, and although he’s supportive of people expressing their opinions, they must be expressed in a respectful manner.
“We’ve had a couple of council meetings where the respect level has dropped,” Skinner continued. “That was seen last week (Thursday, April 15) with the theatre discussion, and we need to change the course of this, because if we allow this to continue these chambers are going to become a free-for-all.”
Skinner said Jenkins had withdrawn her name from the list of nominees to serve on the Colonial Theatre Board because she didn’t want to prevent a council member from serving in that capacity.
The mayor presented two lists of proposed board member names, the first of which included two city representatives – Bucklew and city recorder Randy Sanders – in addition to Keith Buchanan, a BCT past executive producer; Erika Klie Kolenich, a BCT past executive producer; and John Waltz, an ART26201 member and the BCT executive producer.
The second list was the same except it swapped out Bucklew’s name for Alisa Lively’s. Lively is a former member of ART 26201 and the current Dean of Students at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Skinner said he felt it was important to include two lists but emphasized that he had full confidence in Bucklew’s ability to serve on the theatre board.
“Mrs. Bucklew came to me specifically and asked to be put on this board,” the mayor said. “The only qualifications that are outlined in the ordinance and in the memorandum of understanding … is that you need to live within the boundaries of Upshur County.”
“I have full trust and I have full confidence in Mrs. Bucklew to serve on this board,” Skinner added. “Otherwise, I would have never agreed and suggested that we move forward with that slate of officers, but it is ultimately up to the city council because this is a council appointment and not a mayoral singular appointment.”
When Skinner asked for a motion to approve the list that included Bucklew, councilman Jack Reger made a motion to approve, and Bucklew seconded it. However, it failed after councilwoman Mary Albaugh, Rylands and Sanders voted against it. Councilman David Thomas abstained, but did not cite a reason for a conflict of interest.
When council considered the second list, with Lively’s name included instead of Bucklew’s, it was approved with Albaugh, Sanders, Rylands and Reger voting yes. Bucklew abstained because of her interest in serving on the board, and Thomas again abstained.
The motion passed with those four votes, meaning Sanders, Lively, Buchanan, Kolenich and Waltz will serve on the board. Bucklew subsequently acknowledged the vote.
“I just want to say on the record that I respect the decision of the council,” she said.
Reger, who called in to the meeting, said was he “stunned” by comments made at the April 15 council meeting.
“The Colonial Theatre is a community project, and it involves the entire community and I think that needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” Reger said. “We have a lot of positives going on [in Buckhannon]. I was stunned and disappointed at the tone and the tenor of last Thursday’s meeting. I do not feel that disparaging anyone in public is appropriate unless it’s deserved.
“I don’t think Pam Bucklew deserved the comments directed at her in a public forum,” he added. “It still stings. We need to demonstrate respect and sensitivity and things such as last Thursday should have been handled in private with the individual in question instead of this being played out publicly. It’s very hurtful and I’m hoping we can move beyond this.”
The Colonial Theatre renovation project is a three-way collaboration between the City of Buckhannon, ART26201 and the Buckhannon Community Theatre, and the theatre itself will operate as a publicly funded entity. Although city council will have final say over its finances, council approved a memorandum of understanding stating the day-to-day operations and management of the theatre would be handled by a five-member Colonial Theatre Board.
During the April 15 meeting in question, VanNostrand asked that either Jenkins, the city finance director, or Rylands be appointed as the second city representative on the board in addition to Sanders, the city recorder. Bucklew said she was passionate about the theater and has plenty of experience doing hair and makeup for various productions.
As council discussed who would be on the Colonial Theatre Board, Sanders said it would be helpful for council to make an informed decision and asked VanNostrand to voice his concerns with Bucklew’s nomination.
“Simply stated, Pam is not qualified to be on the board,” VanNostrand said. “The way we arrived at five people is based on qualifications of experience in managing venues, artistic events, artistic businesses and Pam does not have these qualifications. We certainly want the most qualified members at the helm.”
“I have run a business for 37 years,” Bucklew replied. “Does that not count?”
“No, it does not,” VanNostrand said.
“So, what you are saying is you just do not want me on the board?” Bucklew asked. “No one has had the guts to come to my face and tell me why. I know why, but that is then, and this is now. I am one vote out of five people.”
“It doesn’t matter, Pam,” VanNostrand said. “We have not based this on personal issues.”
“Yes, it has been,” Bucklew responded. “Yes, it has.”
“This is based on qualifications,” VanNostrand said.
The newly appointed board met for the first time Wednesday, April 21, and will meet monthly. The theatre board’s next working session is slated for 1 p.m. Friday, May 14 in council chambers.
News correspondent Beth Christian Broschart contributed to this story.