2015-07-16 / Front Page

Fort Adams Ousts Director

By Barry Bridges

The Fort Adams Trust plans to launch a nationwide search for a new leader in light of its recent decision to “part ways” with its executive director, Richard Nagele.

After notifying Nagele on Friday, July 10, the trust’s board of directors issued a press release announcing his departure on Wednesday, July 15.

“The Fort Adams Trust has decided to move in a new direction and has parted ways with its former executive director,” the brief statement said. “The trust thanks Rick Nagele for his years of service and wishes him the best in his future endeavors.” The board also said that it has established a transition team to oversee operations on an interim basis and noted its plans to create a search committee to identify a successor.

Nagele was tapped as executive director in July of 2012, replacing the retiring Eric Hertfelder, who served in that capacity for nearly nine years. The trust is a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect and promote Fort Adams, one of the state’s most iconic historic attractions. As a state park, the property is overseen by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

The reasons underlying the action were not immediately known, and attempts to contact Board President Gregory Hall were not successful. However, when reached by telephone, Nagele was gracious in his parting comments.

“I have nothing negative to say,” Nagele told Newport This Week. “The fort is a tremendous asset to Newport and Rhode Island. I was there for three years and I would like to think that we made progress. But others evidently felt that the progress should have been more rapid.”

He was quick to share credit for the successes seen during his tenure with DEM and Sail Newport, the nonprofit public sailing center located at Fort Adams. “The three agencies work very well in putting together their own events, but also accommodate each other. For example, with the Volvo Ocean Race, Sail Newport put together the funding and marketing plans, while DEM handled the nuts and bolts. I know it sounds like a cliché, but DEM is a world class organization. They look for ways to create value in the park system.”

Nagele did acknowledge his role in expanding programming. When he assumed the helm in 2012, there were around 13,000 paid tours annually. Today, that figure stands at 26,000 and is growing. “We were able to double the number of tours, and in addition to improved revenues the number of visitors to the facility also increased,” he reported. “The fort used to be seasonal; now it’s a 12-month operation. There are just a lot more activities going on. While we weren’t always successful in our endeavors, we saw our mindset change to one that always considered the public’s interests as well as our educational mission.”

When word of Nagele’s departure began to circulate, some were quick to point to the water, light and laser show held at Fort Adams on July 3 as a possible influence on the board’s move to jettison its director. Organizers had billed the evening as a “revolutionary water celebration” featuring “3-D floating water holograms, massive screens of water, and towering fountains” along with lights, lasers, and fireworks. But a few days later, Newport leaders were receiving complaints that instead of being “family-friendly” as promised, the production was a chaotic “drink fest” with rowdy underage partygoers.

In a report a week later, Newport Police Sergeant Jonathan Cortes described the “disorderly behavior of many patrons” and “young adults who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and/ or drugs.” Cortes continued in his narrative, “We did have one physical arrest and could have made many more, but we exercised great restraint due to the nature of the crowd and the number of attendees. It is my recommendation that the event not be allowed in the future, as it was not what was portrayed during planning.”

Notwithstanding the displeased reaction of city officials to what transpired during the water show, Nagele tried to dispel rumors of a precipitating event and said that he was “given no indication that it was a factor in the board’s decision.”

“I am comfortable to hang my hat on the programming improvements we were able to make during my time at Fort Adams,” he said. “I appreciate some of the board members’ supportive comments on my behalf, and I wish the best for the fort and all of the people who work there.”

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