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In Confrontational Meeting Ft. Wright Votes to Shutter Museum, Disband Board

Days after Mayor Dave Hatter issued an order closing the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum, the Ft. Wright city council in a heated meeting Wednesday night voted to make that decision permanent, closing the museum and disbanding the board.

Former museum board president Bernie O'Bryan spoke at the meeting in protest.

"Once again, Mayor, you are a bully, and your council are bullies," O'Bryan shouted to Mayor Hatter. "You have said we haven't communicated. You have had meetings to close us without even bothering talking to the board or even bringing it up for discussion! You have considered selling the property at times. You have done all of these things and blamed us.  You're attacking."

"You will be removed from the building if you get out of order," Hatter shouted, interrupting O'Bryan. "Find one documented evidence in the minutes of this council having any discussion and taking any action for selling the property! That, sir, is a lie! Your timer is running, you're about done, and you will be escorted out of the building! So continue."

"Typical," O'Bryan replied. "Typical, Mayor."

"Is there anyone here who disagrees with my approach, on council?." Hatter asked.

Councilman Bernie Wessels said, no.  

"Thank you," said Hatter. "Continue! 59 seconds."

"Today is September 1, which is the day the siege (the Civil War Defense of Cincinnati, which led to the creation of Battery Hooper where the museum is located, and other nearby Union fortifications) started in 1862," O'Bryan started. "You're going to close down the museum!  We are viable. We have thousands, tens of thousands of dollars in the bank, you know that, everything is growing. 

"The problem with this museum is, we are in your way! That's it! Everything else is bull! You know that!"

"You are a liar," Hatter responded. "You have 32 seconds."

"I am not," O'Bryan said. "I am not!"

"Produce any evidence, even the slightest scintilla of evidence, of any of the claims you have made," Hatter demanded. "You can't!  I, on the other hand - "

"Jill," O'Bryan interjected, referencing City Administrator Jill Bailey. "How much do we have in the bank right now?"

"Approximately $11,000," Bailey answered. "Minus $7,500 which is in the process of being returned."

"Because you shut the museum down," O'Bryan shouted.

"Yes," Hatter said. "And because you are incompetent, and you have run the place into the ground, sir!"

"I have a board," O'Bryan stated. "If I am incompetent, fire me! Keep the board! And keep the museum!"

"Oh you are going to be fired! You are going to be fired here momentarily," Hatter stated. "Your time is up. Thanks for shopping. Move along. We're done here. Is there anyone else who would like to address council on this subject?"

Three other people got up to speak about the museum, and one questioned why they were closing the museum down.  

"We found an envelope with $125 in cash in it in the closet the other day," Hatter responded. "I could go on and on, and on and on and on, and I will, if you really want to be dragged through the mud on this.

"We are done talking about this," Hatter said.

Then Hatter demanded that Attorney Tim Theissen read the municipal order which would close the museum on a permanent basis, and he did, relating the terms that the board would be disbanded permanently, and anything in the museum would be returned to the proper owner, or given to a place that would take care of them like a museum.

Council voted unanimously to close it down on the basis of observed infractions, safety risks in the museum building, breakdown of communications with the board, improper accounting practices employed for the museum, lack of success of the museum's signature event Battery Hooper Days, and failure to comply with proper protocols relating to organizational decision making.

Council agreed with all the actions the mayor has taken.

Afterwards, Hatter confirmed that the city was going to do whatever it could to improve Battery Hooper Park, around the museum building, as well as preserve the battery, knowing it is an important part of the history of Ft. Wright. 

He said he had been in touch with Laurie Risch, director of the Behringer Crawford Museum in Covington about taking some of the artifacts in the Ft. Wright museum.

"First off, there is no intent except to improve the park," Hatter said. "And we want nothing done to the infrastructure that is the battery."

Hatter said that if people have any questions about his executive order, they can call because everything is public record and he will explain it to anyone in depth.

Councilman Bernie Wessels outlined what should have been a Battery Hooper Days event, and then said they were selling Confederate flags, sponsored by a city, in this day and age.

"It was an embarrassment," Mayor Hatter said. "We represent everyone here in the city of Ft. Wright. We are not doing things to create divisiveness. We are trying to bring people together, and in today's world, selling Confederate flags at a city-sponsored event, is flat insane. Its' an insult to everyone sitting here, it's an insult to everyone in the city, and it is just one of the many reasons we said enough is enough!

"Ask yourself, why are board members allowing people to come into the building at night and take showers? What is going to happen to the city when someone slips and falls in the shower? We have video of all this, by the way. So when these people come here and make all these allegations, and I tell them they're liars, I have documented evidence that I would be happy to share to anyone who wants to see it."

Hatter also said there has not been any attempt to sell the property or destroy the battery, and there will not be as long as he is mayor, which he said will be about a year and four months, since he is not planning to run again.

Mary DeSalvo, who had been the president of the board in the beginning of the museum's existence, was very upset about what had happened, and agreed with council.

"While I hate to see the museum go away, I think it's time," she said sadly.

Kathleen Romero, who had been involved in the museum early, agreed.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor