Why I resigned from the Timbuctoo Advisory Committee
I chaired the Timbuctoo Advisory Committee (TAC) from its inception in 2015 until 2021. My leadership resulted in “tangible outcomes,” such as the sign identifying Timbuctoo on Rancocas Road. We are grateful to American Legion Post 509 for fiscal sponsorship of that project. We also installed award winning signage in the Timbuctoo cemetery. That was a collaboration between Wesley AME Zion Church of Burlington and the TAC, with volunteer labor for writing, graphic design, and installation. We developed curricula and materials about Timbuctoo history, in collaboration with teachers from Rancocas Valley High School and Westampton Middle School. Partial funding for the signs and the curriculum was provided by Burlington County. I took these last two pieces with me when I incorporated the Timbuctoo Historical Society (THS). That might contribute to what feels like resentment from some officials. That’s unfortunate, but quite logical. The THS now owns the cemetery where the signs are located. The expertise in curriculum development and the project’s institutional memory reside in the teachers and in me. We presented the curricula at the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City on November 10, 2022. Meanwhile, Westampton Township chose not to select technical experts in its January 2023 appointments to its advisory committee.
I left the advisory committee because it became increasingly clear that the township did not want an advisory committee, but rather an event planning committee. The township’s decision to hire an auctioneer to sell the Timbuctoo property originally designated for a museum without even a conversation with the advisory committee makes that point crystal clear. Since my departure, the advisory committee has not produced a single report visible in the public record. I produced three, including this one. In addition, our review of Township Committee meeting minutes did not identify any mentions of Timbuctoo in 2022 with the exception of January committee appointments. If Timbuctoo is really such a priority of this governing body, why is there no evidence of that in their public deliberations? The August 2 TAC meeting minutes say this: “To date, there has not been any report from Township Committee Liaison, Jaime Mungo, regarding several items we asked her to present to the Township Committee for consideration.”
Given the foregoing, I see no logic in a July 15 letter from Township Solicitor Robert Wright indicating the TAC will determine if our historical society’s educational activities are appropriate when we request use of a township owned lot next to our cemetery. We should be able to access township property as other group would, without needing a committee review. We conducted 24 presentations reaching about 1024 people in 2022, have published multiple scholarly articles, have substantive presence in the local history community, and periodically participate in statewide efforts. Our website got 5225 hits in the last twelve months.
By comparison, recent online evidence of the TAC’s existence is minimal. Three of its four 2022 planned tour activities were cancelled. Expertise on Timbuctoo among the committee’s membership is limited. What does Westampton Township purport to bring to the table relative to historic preservation or outreach?
Westampton residents today are concerned about the things like the proliferation of warehouses and new housing developments, the Master Plan, and constituent services. I think we’d be hard pressed to find any appreciable constituency in the Township who want their tax dollars used to pay the Township Solicitor $200-$300 per hour on a dispute with a local historical society, or to pay public works employees time and a half to set up for weekend TAC events that can be conducted more effectively by a private non-profit at no cost to the Township.
GUY WESTON, MANAGING DIRECTOR
TIMBUCTOO HISTORICAL SOCIETY