Council mulls taking art fight to court

June 14, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Washington County's ethics commission has declined to get involved in the dispute over two Civil War art prints that Williamsport's former mayor kept when he left office, Mayor James G. McCleaf II said Monday.

Instead, McCleaf and the town council on Monday consulted, in closed session, with Town Attorney Edward Kuczynski about whether to take former Mayor John W. Slayman to court over the matter.

Twelve years ago, three copies of a painting of a Civil War scene were presented either to Slayman, as the former mayor has maintained, or to the town, as others have said.


Slayman kept one print at his home over the years.

Another hung at Town Hall, but Slayman took it with him when he left office in March.

Slayman also tried to claim the third one, which hangs at the town library, but he was rejected.

Slayman has said that gallery owner Lester Benjamin Green promised him all three prints at the time in exchange for writing a press release about the release of the prints. Green died a short time later.

During a brief discussion in open session Monday, council members were divided on whether to try to reclaim any or all of the prints. A few liked the idea of taking back all three prints, then officially giving Slayman one in a ceremony to recognize his many years of service to the town.

Assistant Mayor Monty R. Jones said he thinks Slayman took at least one print that isn't his, but Jones opposes using tax money to get back any of the prints.

"He knows what he did," Jones said. "If it's wrong, John has to live with it. If it was right, then so be it."

Councilman Nelson F. Deal favored having a ceremony during which one print would be given to Slayman.

"He'd legally be the owner," Deal said.

Councilman James C. Kalbfleisch said he was not qualified to comment on the matter because Green, who allegedly made Slayman a promise, is dead.

Councilman Earle R. Pereschuk Sr. also had no comment. He said it's "a touchy subject" and he doesn't know the answer.

Councilwoman Gloria J. Bitner defended Slayman. She said he's entitled to what he received for serving his constituents.

Councilman Jeff Cline agreed that Slayman should be honored and that he should receive one print.

McCleaf reiterated his hope that the matter is resolved quickly because it is distracting the town council as it tries to get other things done.

From the audience, resident James T. Jewell suggested that the town's registered voters be allowed to vote on what happens.

As the discussion turned to possible legal action against Slayman, McCleaf asked Kuczynski for advice.

Kuczynski said he would only comment in executive session. Under Maryland law, public bodies are allowed to meet in closed session to discuss possible litigation.

The council voted 5-1 to go into executive session. Jones voted no, saying he preferred an open discussion.

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