A Response to the Supporters of Gunston Hall Director David Reese

Controversy continues to swirl around the former George Mason residence

To the editor:

The supporters of Mr. Reese, Director of Gunston Hall, are certainly entitled to their opinion. George Mason would celebrate. However, I and others have a different opinion based on carefully substantiated facts they may not be aware of.

First, our actions are a direct result of the Director's sudden termination of the position of Education Coordinator on January 21, 2011, on a Friday afternoon following a discussion of Plantation Christmas. She was blindsided. The Education Coordinator had worked at Gunston Hall for 20 years and always received superlative performance reviews from the Director. He told her that her dismissal was a budget issue, despite the fact that in the 2010-12 Strategic and Service Area Plan to the Commonwealth, the Director stated that no HR changes were anticipated. The Education Coordinator had to turn in her keys, and was told on Monday that her office would be locked at the end of the day. Her e-mail was shut down as well.

When no further information was forthcoming, a public meeting was held at Pohick Church on January 24. More than 50 people came from the Gunston Hall and Mason Neck communities. We asked ourselves the following questions: “Since education is the keystone of Gunston Hall's mission statement, why would the Director reduce the education department from 60 hours per week to 20 hours? This is a significant reduction of 66 percent. It would seem that the position of Education Coordinator would be one of the last positions to be eliminated. If the reason was really a budget one, why now? Why didn't the Director approach the Regents for help with funding? The Director has been referred to as an ‘”artful fund-raiser.’” 

Also: “Why did the Director hire a full-time librarian in the fall of 2010 if the fiscal situation was so dire? Why wasn't part-time employment offered?  Why were there no plans in place for a smooth transition, if indeed this was a budget issue and the Director knew about it?”  

The termination of the position of Education Coordinator did not make sense when school programs and educational events account for approximately 50 percent of Gunston Hall's annual visitations.

A group of Gunston Hall docents went to Richmond to appeal to the legislators to reinstate the position of Education Coordinator. They discovered that the position was fully funded, and it was NOT a budget issue. The Commonwealth, in fact, did NOT know the position had been terminated. On January 27, 2011, Ms. Herzog, Legislative Fiscal Analyst, Virginia Senate Finance Committee, wrote, "I did speak with a DPB (Department of Planning and Budget) analyst this afternoon who did not know anything about a layoff and said that it wasn't in the agency's budget reduction plan."

It appears the Director was not telling the truth.  Why then, did he terminate the Education Coordinator This question remains unanswered. We believe the Director's actions thwarted the Commonwealth's mandate to Gunston Hall, which is to educate the public about George Mason and 18th Century plantation life.

Director Reese has written in the 2010-12 Strategic and Service Area Plan: "We will increase, by 5 percent, the number of school children who are provided with an understanding of the relationship between George Mason's contributions and the required Standards of Learning  in Virginia." To assume that our educational programs will continue to "flourish" with a part-time education staff working 20 hours a week replacing one full-time and a part-time employee who worked 60 hours a week is unrealistic. How can the Director expect to increase Gunston Hall's school visitation by 5 percent when he has decreased the educational staff by 66 percent.

I think the integrity of the wrong people has been criticized.

Charlotte Knipling

Member Gunston Hall Advisory Board (2004-present)
Member Gunston Hall Docents' Association Board
Gunston Hall Docent (1984-present)

Sharon Stogoski February 27, 2011 at 03:21 PM
Director Reese is a charleton who uses smoke and mirrors, and places blame on others when in fact it falls at his feet. There is no position that entitles a person to treat people with disrespect, and then hides behind facts that are misconstrued. A leader is one that stands for his people and makes them proud to be part of an organization, not one that belittles the very people that make an organization succeed. Sometime people have to look past what is being said and look at what is actually happening. For to have volunteers that have given their time for ten and even twenty ,thirty years to leave positions they have held with passion, there has to be very BIG reason, and that falls on the poor leadership of Director Reese.
Sue February 28, 2011 at 02:13 AM
How about you people get a new hobby! Are you trying to take the directors position? Are you so bored with your personal lives that you must intrude into others? I have been reading all about whats going on at Gunston Hall and find it interesting that most of you are volunteers, which means you are probally only around for a few hours a week/month. So by only being there a few hours do you really know what goes on in a 40/50 hour work week? Are you there 8 hours a day and hear everything? If the answer is NO then you should not involve yourself as it is not YOUR business! If they wanted your opinion they would add you to payroll!!! Also why didnt you volunteers speak your mind about the director before the termination of the education person? If he was so bad, why wasnt it a problem before she was let go? Why no complaints then?


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