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Former mayor should end quest for artwork

April 21, 2005

After John Slayman's many years of service to the town of Williamsport, it would be a shame for him to be remembered primarily for a dispute over ownership of two works of art that it seems clear were donated to the municipality.

Slayman should do as he has done for many years - put the town first and allow the piece of art he had removed from Town Hall to be returned.

The pictures in questions are "artist proofs" by John P. Strain that show Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee crossing the Potomac River at Williamsport.

Strain said that three proofs were delivered in 1993 - one for Slayman himself and the other two for the town.

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Plaques attached to the frames of two of the proofs indicate that Strain was donating them to the town and not to Slayman. Slayman said all three were given to him.

The former mayor said his claim was backed by the late Lester Benjamin Green, who was co-owner of Benjamin's Art Gallery in Hagerstown. His widow, Lottie Green, doesn't remember it that way, saying Slayman was only to get one of the proofs.

On Tuesday, the town's library board discussed Slayman's claim. Perhaps because Slayman had threatened to sue if the decision went against him, the board decided to allow the town council to make the decision.

If any other municipal employee had removed property from Town Hall, we doubt he or she would have been treated so respectfully. Slayman is getting kid-glove treatment because of what he has done as mayor since 1985.

We would prefer to remember him for his contributions to the town. He was a co-organizer of C&O Canal Days and a backer of the renovation and conversion into a museum of the Springfield Barn, built by town founder Otho Holland Williams in 1755.

Slayman was also a mediator between those who wanted to keep the town as it always had been and those who wanted to allow newer uses, such as sidewalk cafes.

Small town officials who serve as long as Slayman did spend hundreds of hours for little pay to keep government running smoothly, tending to issues such as parking disputes that would drive most citizens to distraction.

That's how we want to remember John Slayman - for his years of dedicated service. We hope he will allow everyone to do that by abandoning this quest for property that clearly belongs to the town.

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