The curator for the Forest Park Historical Society said he hopes to clear up the “false and misleading” information spewed by a group of self-described history buffs accusing him of strong-arming his board of directors and failing to promote the village’s history.
Society Director Rich Vitton said an open meeting scheduled for Sept. 23 will give the public a chance to learn about a massive photo restoration project that has occupied his time in recent months and kept him from more visible initiatives.
“Just because the general public doesn’t see us doing things doesn’t mean we’re not,” Vitton said.
In June, a handful of area residents sent a letter to Vitton’s board of directors expressing concern with how the Historical Society is being managed. A perceived lack of public meetings, sparse event planning and a weak governance structure were several of the concerns highlighted in the June 27 letter.
The signers asked to be seated on the board of directors. That request was flatly denied by several board members in July.
The petitioners acknowledged Vitton’s efforts to restore and archive old photographs, but criticized the Historical Society for not displaying those pictures. They likened the situation to a musician who never performs in public.
Bill Sawisch signed the letter along with Augie Aleksy, Patricia Marino, Sally Taylor and John Rice. Rice is a columnist for the Forest Park Review.
Sawisch said he doesn’t doubt that Vitton is working on a number of projects, but said many efforts he has made to assist the organization have been rebuffed.
“We all agree; we believe there’s a ton of stuff to do,” Sawisch said. “The point is, why [isn’t Vitton] letting anybody else do anything?”
Sawisch said he and Taylor will be out of town and will not be able to attend the September meeting.
The Historical Society will also open up its ranks to accept new members, and board member Mary Winn Connor said those petitioners who are not already part of the organization will not be discouraged from joining.
Vitton and several of his board members said the decision to call an open meeting was not prompted by the June letter and had been in the planning stages for some time. However, they acknowledged the meeting will provide them an opportunity to respond publicly to the petitioners.
“People wonder what’s going on,” Connor said. “There unfortunately was a pissing match in the newspaper.”
Judy Arnold, another Historical Society board member, said the overall purpose of the meeting will be to generate more interest in the organization. Now that Vitton is largely finished restoring the old photographs, the Historical Society is ready to take on new, more visible projects.
“It’s just basically to talk about what the Historical Society is all about,” Arnold said.
The meeting is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at the Forest Park Public Library. Attendees will also be given a tour of the society’s storage room maintained at the library.