Catasauqua Press

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Better communication is needed

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 by PAUL CMIL Special to The Press in Local News

Catasauqua Borough, volunteers hit bumps in the road to an agreement

Amy Capewell took the floor at Catasauqua Borough Council’s meeting Aug. 7 to express her dissatisfaction with the way the George Taylor House has been administered. Capewell is a volunteer and has worked in various capacities during events at the historic property.

Since purchasing the historic house from Lehigh County in 2009, the borough has attempted to get the historic property to pay for itself. The latest organizational structure, with events at the house being planned by an overall manager and a group of steady volunteers, has been the most successful.

Although no formal agreement between the borough and the volunteers was in place, the volunteers and their chief reported to borough Manager Eugene Goldfeder. The house program manager, who is paid a small stipend by the borough, organized the volunteers.

Emily Zacharda has held the manager’s position for about two years.

On the borough council, the George Taylor House falls under the purview of the recreation committee, including chairman Jessica Kroope and members Debra Mellish and Eugene Schlegel.

As recent events unfolded and progressed, volunteers suggested creating an independent organization called Friends of George where people could contribute or volunteer to support the historic property.

Volunteer Candace Winkler said the new organization would do a better job of recognizing contributions by individuals.

Recent activity has been positive, and Friends of George has gained membership.

The group formed an LLC a couple of years ago and recently began to work toward 501(c)3 status as a tax-free charitable entity. The group asked borough Solicitor Jeffery Dimmich to prepare documents for legal status. Friends of George also set up its own Facebook page and now have more than 500 followers.

An agreement was in the works between the volunteers and the borough, but the volunteers did not see the borough showing any urgency to draft the agreement.

“We were on a great trajectory,” Winkler told The Press last week. “Volunteers worked hard and are talented.”

The period costumes worn at events are personal property, some of which are costly. Volunteers feel underappreciated and do not understand why an agreement is now a “hot-button” item when a formal agreement had not existed for eight years.

Kroope told The Press last week the agreement is necessary to protect the historic house and the borough. She said, for example, proper bylaws are necessary if the organization is to accept donations for the house on behalf of the borough.

Volunteers hold monthly meetings on the third Tuesday of every month. At the last meeting, Kroope called local police about a potential property theft at the George Taylor House. The suspected theft was proved to be false, but the approach and how it was handled by the borough and police incensed volunteers who were in attendance at the meeting.

Creation of a Friends of George Facebook page is one of the borough’s concerns. Kroope told The Press the borough would like for that page to be connected to the borough’s website and Facebook page, as the house is owned by the borough.

“We have a good social media person in Rachel (Haines), so we may have hurt some feelings when we restricted anyone else from making changes to our Facebook page,” Winkler said.

For her part, Kroope says she is only looking out for the interests of the borough and did not mean to upset anyone.

“If I caused anyone to be upset, I apologize,” she said. “I don’t want to make the volunteers look bad.”

As a result of the recent developments, Dimmich is prioritizing the drafting of an agreement. Volunteers and Zacharda have submitted resignations or at least indicated they are no longer going to work under the existing conditions. Other volunteers have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. They say they are interested in continuing their work but need to see changes made.

It is hoped that Tuesday’s volunteer meeting would be the beginning of smoother travels for the volunteers and the borough.