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NPS — “Missing" monument money a big misunderstanding.

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Posted: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 12:00 am

The great debate over the “missing monument money” at Gettysburg National Military Park is over.

Apparently, it was all a misunderstanding, from Day One.

The monument repair money was never “missing” or misappropriated, as was alleged by a preservation group late last year.

It was being kept in an escrow account at Adams County National Bank the whole time.

The park just didn’t know how to access the funds.

As soon as new Supt. Bob Kirby came to town (in March), he made it a “priority” to access the pot of money, which has grown to about $300,000, according to State Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Pittsburgh).

Kirby’s approach was simple: he went into the bank, and asked about the funds.

The burning question: How tough was that?

Apparently, over the last eight years — when the money was being raised, for the betterment of Gettysburg Battlefield monuments — no one from the Park Service knew how to access the funding.

And no one asked.

Accusations ensued, and controversy lingered. Critics argued that the park was “ignoring” monument repairs, by not using the money.

The debacle was covered prominently by the local press in November-December, and was featured on regional television newscasts as well.

In a conversation Monday afternoon, Readshaw — who has helped raise money for Gettysburg Battlefield preservation since the 1990s — wondered why the situation wasn’t rectified by the park’s previous administration, primarily former Supt. John Latschar.

“When we set it up, the previous superintendent was given the guidelines, but he chose not to do it,” Readshaw said in our April 27 edition. “I can’t issue an explanation why.”

He thinks his fundraising group, a combined effort between Readshaw’s Raiders and the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, is off to a “good start” with Kirby.

The park now intends to use the money to repair many of the 140-plus Pennsylvania monuments throughout the 6,000 acre Civil War battlefield, home to about 1400 total monuments. Readshaw’s group raised the money over an eight-year period, dating back to 2003, specifically for Pennsylvania memorials.

Park officials acknowledge that there is widespread misunderstanding about the funding, leading to the news coverage in Nov.-Dec. 2009.

That’s because three different agencies have donated funds to the park over the past 15 years to repair Pennsylvania monuments, creating confusion over how the funds should be spent, and which monuments are eligible for the repairs.

First, in 1998, the state legislature created the Pennsylvania Gettysburg Monuments Commission for monument repair work. The state-chartered commission donated $85,825 to the park, and about $9,000 remains. After those funds were raised, the commission disbanded. Lawhon said the “majority of the work was done, and it was done to the satisfaction of the commission.” Readshaw was a part of that effort.

Second, shortly after the commission disbanded, the state government appropriated $1 million in 2000-01 to repair the Pennsylvania Memorial, the largest monument on the battlefield. Park officials contend that the money was allocated “solely for the repair” of the 60-foot tall statue. The $1 million was administered by the Pa. Historical and Museum Commission, and later provided to the now-defunct Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg, which later merged with the Gettysburg Foundation. Money never went through the park’s hands.

Lastly, in 2003, Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Pittsburgh) announced that he was launching a private fundraising group, to repair state battlefield monuments: Readshaw’s Raiders. His group chose a private non-profit organization, the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, to funnel funds through the park. The funding was placed in escrow at Adams County bank over the years, but until recently, the park had “no idea how much is there, or for which monuments the money was raised for.” Also, the park was unable to use the funding, because of the constraints placed upon the money.

With three fundraising groups raising money for the same cause — monument repair — you can easily see how the situation is so confusing.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see Supt. Kirby taking a proactive approach to rectify the situation.

All it took was a simple visit to Adams County National Bank.

~ Submitted by: Scot A. Pitzer, Times Staff Reporter.

Reader comments are encouraged. Contact Scot Pitzer directly at 717.334.1131, ext. 247 or spitzer@gburgtimes.com.

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