City preservationists summoned to closed-door meeting

Members of Baltimore's historic preservation commission have been summoned to a closed-door meeting Monday at which, some preservationists say, the board members will be asked to oust the commission's director.

Board members and preservationists say efforts are under way to remove Kathleen Kotarba, who has served for decades as the executive director of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

"We heard from multiple folks that the closed session was going to be to take a vote to fire Kathleen Kotarba," said Eli Pousson, field officer for Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit group that closely monitors the commission.

Johns Hopkins, director of Baltimore Heritage, said in an email to preservationists that he believed the move to fire Kotarba "involves recent controversial historic preservation issues," such as the Read's drugstore in the west side's Superblock development project, the Morris Mechanic Theatre and the Edgar Allan Poe House.

"We fear that the effort to fire Ms. Kotarba is an attempt to reduce the influence of historic preservation in Baltimore," Hopkins wrote.

Kotarba did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Commission member James "Buzz" Cusack said that while he has not been officially told the purpose of Monday's meeting, he understands its purpose is to discuss Kotarba's future with the panel.

"What we're being told is that somebody is not satisfied with her performance and somebody wants to go in a new direction," Cusack said. "I hope at this meeting they explain what the new direction is and why they are not satisfied with her.

"From my perspective, I think she has done a more than satisfactory performance," said Cusack, who has served on the board for about six years.

Cusack said he has heard conflicting accounts as to who might be seeking Kotarba's ouster.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, provided a statement from the city's planning director, Tom Stosur, that said the city would not comment on personnel matters and noted that Kotarba serves at the pleasure of the commission, not the mayor or the city planning director.

"Both the Planning Department and the members of the Commission are fully committed to promoting and supporting historic preservation in Baltimore in a responsible way," Stosur said in the statement.

The mayor recently appointed five new members to the 12-person board.

Law professor and political adviser Larry Gibson, who serves on the board, said he had been told that a "personnel matter" would be discussed at Monday's meeting. He declined to comment further.

Cusack, who operates the Senator and Charles theaters, said a decision to fire Kotarba could arouse the ire of city residents.

"I think it's going to be very unfortunate politically," Cusack said. "Historic preservation is a very important and romantic notion that many people support."

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