2015-05-14 / Opinion

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Body Cameras Protect Police and Public

To the Editor:

The time has come for municipal and state police departments to adopt the use of body cameras as a matter of public policy. The fatal incidents in Ferguson, North Charleston, and Baltimore, while each carrying their own unique circumstances, make the case that different outcomes might have transpired if police had been required to use body cameras in their interaction with alleged perpetrators.

Although racial profiling is universally condemned by law enforcement and the general public, unfortunately, it appears to have been operative in so many of the charges, arrests and confrontations by police with black men in a number of incidents in our country.

In the recent case of Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., it can be stated that Mr. Scott would be alive today if a body camera were in use during his interaction with a police officer. The report originally filed by that officer represented a total cover-up of what actually transpired. Were it not for the video transcription by an eyewitness to that incident, we would never have known the truth and the opportunity for justice would have been compromised.

Body cameras actually protect the police as well as alleged perpetrators. The camera records actual events as they unfold so that it becomes abundantly clear how police interactions with citizens are managed. In addition, the use of cameras can show if law enforcement procedures adopted by police departments have been followed. In fact, these transcriptions can also serve as a measure for evaluation of police performance.

While there are obvious costs associated with the purchase of body cameras, it is likely that municipalities and states can actually save some money by avoiding unnecessary or frivolous lawsuits. What is seen on the camera will most often deter potential litigants from advancing unwarranted claims against police departments. Moreover, it can be said that the use of body cameras will result in the modification of certain kinds of police behavior, which, in turn, will mean a reduction in the likelihood that such incidents turn fatal. That’s a price that any community or state should be willing to pay.

The Newport Democratic City Committee endorses the immediate use of body cameras by police.

J. Clement Cicilline, Chair
Newport Democratic City Committee

Laundry List

To the Editor:

With The Breakers making all sorts of news again, I've been thinking. If The Preservation Society is poised to put in a historical welcome center and a historical lunch facility then why don't they make the historical building a little larger and put in a historical laundromat? They could really clean up in the winter.

Mary Weston
Newport

Honoree Inspires

To the Editor:

Philip Pelletier was chosen as one of the honorees for the Men Who Make a Difference in the Community by the Women's Resource Center. He deserves to be recognized as a leader and a source of inspiration.

I worked with Phil for 30 years at Thompson Middle School when he was a music teacher and a dean. He was always kind, thoughtful and compassionate to everyone, especially toward the students. Phil attentively listened in order to understand their problems that caused delinquency and truancy. Every day he had conversaions with the truant officer to understand their situation at home.

Phil touched the hearts of all! May God bless him with happiness.

Elizabeth Watts
Newport

Vanderbilt Family Takes Umbrage to Changes

To the Editor:

The undersigned members of the extended Vanderbilt family have joined to express our opposition to actions of the Preservation Society of Newport County, primarily the Society’s proposal to construct a visitor center on the grounds of The Breakers.

This Gilded Age monument, commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1893, is a national and state historic landmark considered by many to be the most important private house in America. Gladys Vanderbilt Szechenyi (1886-1965), daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, inherited The Breakers when her mother died in 1934. In 1948, she opened part of the house to the public to raise funds for the newly founded Preservation Society. The Society agreed that The Breakers would be used and maintained in a “becoming and proper manner” and that it would “not permit picnicking or the eating of lunches by the public either on the grounds of The Breakers nor the stables nor within the buildings.” The Society was directed “not to make any changes in the structure in any of the buildings and not to change the layout of the premises surrounding The Breakers, nor to remove any of the trees and shrubbery.” The Preservation Society also agreed that The Breakers would be operated “in a dignified manner which shall be in keeping with the manner in which it was operated… during the lifetime of Gladys Szechenyi.” In 1972, Countess Szechenyi’s family formally transferred The Breakers to the Preservation Society.

The Preservation Society now holds this Vanderbilt property in public trust, as part of its preservation mission. For over 60 years, The Breakers has been recognized as the crown jewel of Newport and the heart pumping the blood that allows the Preservation Society to exist in its present form.

Since 2012, the Preservation Society has fought to place a visitor center directly adjacent to the historic Gate House at the front entrance to The Breakers. This modern structure, restaurant and patio will degrade the historic landscape and diminish the integrity of the property. In the summer of 2014, in preparation for planned construction, the Society removed a large section of the original limestone wall and wrought iron fence, and bulldozed a roadway through historic trees and garden paths. This was painful to watch.

Historically, Vanderbilt descendants have been committed to maintaining the character of The Breakers. The bylaws of the Preservation Society designated two descendants of Countess Szechenyi as lifetime members of the five-person Breakers Committee. The Committee was to “advise the Board of Trustees with respect to matters affecting the Breakers and the Breakers Stable…”. In recent years, however, the Society has diminished the role of the Breakers Committee and has allowed it to atrophy. Noreen Stonor Drexel, a steadfast friend of Countess Szechenyi’s family and longtime member of the Committee, was arbitrarily removed from her post in 2005. The Committee no longer meets, and The Breakers is being used to generate income for the Society. Management of the Preservation Society has made no effort to connect with the few remaining individuals who knew Countess Szechenyi during her lifetime, or to solicit the recollections of family members and friends. Lacking the protection of the Committee, The Breakers’ legacy is disappearing before our eyes.

Most egregiously, even as the wishes of the family have been ignored, the portrait of Gladys Szechenyi by Philip de Laszlo is blatantly exploited for public relations and marketing purposes. This painting is on display at the Morning Room in The Breakers. After being on loan for many years, certain family members made arrangements for the portrait to be transferred to the Preservation Society last year. Now, without attribution, the image is used over and over, on the organization’s Facebook site and in publications, to advertise an operation far distanced from true preservation.

We and other family members have been long and significant supporters of the Preservation Society, through memberships, donations, gifts of property, and sponsorship of events (Coaching Weekend being a notable example). Many family members had hoped to contribute more capital and family items to the Society’s collection. This will be impossible until the current leadership climate is changed.

We believe that in its current stance the Preservation Society is no longer a trustworthy steward of its flagship property and no longer fulfills its commitment to the public trust. It has betrayed its nonprofit mission to preserve historic Newport, and with its ill-advised plan to place the visitor center on The Breakers grounds it has polarized Newport and generated considerable ill will.

We come together now to request that the Preservation Society recognize its responsibility to honor the promises it made to the donor of The Breakers and her family. In addition, the Society must recognize and act on its fiduciary obligations to preserve The Breakers, rather than exploiting this magnificent landmark for financial gain.

Ellen Vanderbilt Aidinoff,
Flora Miller Biddle,
Jamie Wade Comstock,
Gloria Vanderbilt Cooper,
Dominik Coudenhove-Kalergi,
Fiona Irving Donovan,
Elijah Duckworth-Schachter,
Nandine Szechenyi Eltz,
Teresita Eltz,
Robin Finch Hatton,
Rupert Finch Hatton,
John LeBoutillier,
Melanie Eltz Mackintosh,
Sophia Duckworth Schachter,
Gladys Vanderbilt Szapary,
Paul L. Szapary,
Gladys Roberts Thomas,
Alfred G. Vanderbilt,
Heidi Vanderbilt,
William Henry Vanderbilt,
Emily Vanderbilt Wade

Claims Demonstrate Lack of Understanding

To the Editor:

Recent correspondence from some Vanderbilt descendants which was reported in the news media is intended, once again, to prevent the Preservation Society from completing The Breakers welcome center. The letter is rife with inaccuracies. I would like to address the most significant.

The letter claims that the family donated The Breakers to the Preservation Society. In fact, members of the family sold the house to the Society in 1972 for a premium price, with no restrictions, pledges, promises, or rights to continued occupancy. Similarly, the recent “transfer” of a major portrait to the Preservation Society was in fact a sale at fair market value.

The claim that the Preservation Society is "exploiting" The Breakers for financial gain demonstrates a total lack of understanding as to how the maintenance of historic properties is funded. Further, when The Breakers was first opened to the public, ticket proceeds were directed by the owner to be used by the Preservation Society for assisting and preserving other properties.

The letter alleges that the proposed welcome center will degrade the historic landscape. That claim has already been considered and dismissed by all of the relevant regulatory agencies. The Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission found that "the project will not alter the historic character of The Breakers."

The work on the front lawn of The Breakers last summer to prevent the continued deterioration of a unique historic structure - the underground boiler room - also did not alter the landscape. As part of that project, previously damaged sections of fence were removed; they will be replaced after conservation and restoration. Our goal is to eventually open the boiler room for tours.

Some Vanderbilt family members have threatened to recall objects that are on display at The Breakers. Objects on loan from the family may be recalled at any time, but the visitor experience and the interpretation of the building are not at risk. More than 93 percent of the objects at The Breakers are owned by the Preservation Society.

The family has threatened to withhold financial support, but only eight of the 21 signers of the letter have financially supported the Society's work over the past 20 years, and in the past five years their charitable giving has been nominal. This compares with the $5.2 million a year our museum guests contribute by visiting The Breakers. The welcome center is planned for our museum guests’ education, convenience and welfare.

The Vanderbilt family has no role in the management or stewardship of The Breakers. It is a museum and a National Historic Landmark, governed by its very able Board of Trustees and maintained by the Society to the highest standards of the museum field, as attested by the fact that the Society is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Necessary work to sustain our mission to protect, preserve and present Newport’s and America’s history will continue, and we gratefully acknowledge the outpouring of public support for that mission.

Donald O. Ross
Chairman of the Board of Trustees
The Preservation Society
of Newport County

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