Mayor loses clock kerfuffle

Friday, March 21, 2008

A clock bequeathed to La Plata by the town’s late historian is going to be moved to where some local officials said it should have always been in the first place — in front of the town hall on La Grange Avenue.

The location of the Victorian-style clock, bequeathed to the town by the late Kathryn ‘‘Kittie” Newcomb when she died at the age of 83 in 2003, has been a subject of contention between the La Plata Town Council members and Mayor Gene Ambrogio for a few months.

The four council members wanted the clock to be moved from its current location on the left side of the town hall facing Queen Anne Street to the circle in front of the building.

Newcomb left the town $10,000 to purchase and install the clock and the council had to pitch in another $10,000 to get the job done. The latest estimate is that it will cost the town $2,200 to relocate the clock to the circle in front of the town hall, said Town Manager Daniel Mears.

Ambrogio tried a last-ditch effort to leave the clock where it currently stands by suggesting the town find a piece of artwork to place in the circle — a recommendation that did not sit well with the council.

‘‘We’re always talking about improving the arts in town,” the mayor said last week. ‘‘We need to get a little more artsy here in La Plata. This would be an opportunity for us to highlight the arts in town.”

‘‘You like swimming upstream, don’t you?” quipped Ward 1 Councilman Jim Goldsmith, referring to the mayor’s insistence that the clock should remain where it is currently planted. ‘‘The clock isn’t where the town originally wanted to put it. Its location right now detracts from the total benefit of having the clock. I’m still in favor of the clock going in the circle. It’s a beautiful clock, and it would benefit the overall image of the town hall when you drive down La Grange Avenue.”

Ward 4 Councilman Vic Newman became frustrated with the debate.

‘‘Can’t we put this to rest tonight?” he said at the March 11 meeting. ‘‘It’s silly that this discussion keeps going on.”

‘‘I’m afraid that art would detract from the building; the clock would accent the building better,” said Ward 2 Councilman Scot Lucas. ‘‘I’m in favor of moving the clock to the circle.”

Ward 3 Councilwoman Paddy Mudd said that it would cost more for the town to have artwork, such as a sculpture, placed in front of the town hall than it would cost to relocate the clock there.

‘‘You’ve got to commission a piece of art to go out there,” she said. ‘‘It would open up a whole bag of worms. It would cost more than $50,000 for a quality piece of art.”

Ambrogio said recently that he objected to moving the clock because ultimately the taxpayers would foot the bill. Newman reminded him of that during the work session.

‘‘You said it would cost the taxpayers to move the clock, but you want to put art there and that’s going to cost the town money, too,” he said.

‘‘We’re four to one against this one,” Goldsmith said. ‘‘We’ve got a beautiful clock out there. Let’s put it to its best use, and the best use is to put it in the circle.”

The town council voted to move the clock with Ambrogio voting against it.