Canton Repository

June 29, 2006

Mary Regula not faulted in library duties

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - The authors of two memos that a watchdog group has produced as evidence the First Ladies’ National Historic Site is getting preferential treatment are disputing the organization’s interpretation of the communications.

The memos were first made public June 19 when Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released them as part of a report contending the federal government was favoring the Canton-based library and museum because of its connections to Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township.

Regula’s wife, Mary Regula, founded the library in 1997 as a way to preserve and study the legacy of the presidents’ wives.

Three years later, Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, used his clout as a powerful appropriator to pass legislation that made the library part of the national park system and eligible for annual federal funding.

PEER, a self-described watchdog organization that has frequently criticized the Bush administration’s approach to the national parks, contends that the documents the group acquired show the library receiving kid-glove treatment.

In a 2002 memo, Carol Spears, the park service’s site manager for the library, described a frustrated Mary Regula as threatening to complain to her husband about delays in receiving federal reimbursement and asking Spears “how is my (Spears’) salary being paid.”

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, called it a situation where “the site manager is in essence being called on the carpet” by the private partner in the relationship.

The other communication is a 2004 memo written by former park service official Gary Cummins describing a conversation with Mary Regula about her plans to create an interactive electronic exhibit at the library similar to one she had seen at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

While commending Mrs. Regula for being “extremely gracious and appreciative of my call,” Cummins said she did not want the park service involved in the project and “wants to have complete and total control over this undertaking.” Ruch said the memo demonstrates that Mary Regula “doesn’t want the park service interfering even though the park service is providing the bulk of the funds” to operate the site.

Under an agreement with the park service, the National First Ladies’ Library, a nonprofit corporation, has the responsibility to manage and operate the site while the park service provides oversight, technical assistance and the bulk of operational funding.

Annual federal operating funds provided to the library have grown to $1 million in 2006.

Mary Regula, who serves as president of the board of directors, did not respond to a request to comment on the group’s allegations or the memos.

But Spears and Cummins, recalling what they wrote, said they were not criticizing Mrs. Regula or the way the library was run.

Spears said she did not feel put upon by Mary Regula.

Her memo, she said, was “simply informing my supervisor of a conversation and there was no feeling on my part that I was in any way being called on the carpet.”

Spears added that she doesn’t know if Mary Regula ever talked with the congressman about the matter. That was the “only time” Mrs. Regula raised the prospect of bringing an issue to her husband’s attention, she said.

Spears said she didn’t know what Mrs. Regula was getting at when she asked how she was paid.

“I’m documenting a conversation,” she said. “I’m not interpreting it.”

“It’s not a threat,” said Pat Krider, executive director of the First Ladies’ Library.

Though Krider was not present for the conversation, she said the question about salary sounded like others Mary Regula had asked at a time when she was trying to understand the federal reimbursement process.

Cummins documented his conversation with Mary Regula in a memo he sent to Park Service Director Fran Mainella.

Now retired, Cummins at the time was director of the Harpers Ferry Center, a national park facility in West Virginia that offers technical guidance on exhibits to other national parks.

Mary Regula called him to discuss the library’s plans to hire a local firm to create an interactive exhibit, and she was averse to any involvement from the park service, he recalled.

The library ultimately hired two local firms and completed the exhibit, Krider said.

Cummins said he can understand why Mary Regula wanted to avoid what he called a cumbersome federal contracting process.

“Her concern was — it would stretch this thing out by many, many times,” he said. “And I have to say she has a point.”

To Cummins, the episode marked a “pretty benign” instance of the sometimes uncertain interactions between the park service and private entities during a time when the federal government is encouraging public-private partnerships in the park system.

“We didn’t have a very good map on how to work our way through this new territory, and there’s been some real issues,” he said.

Cummins acknowledged he gave “special attention” to the call from Mary Regula “because of the Regula name.”

“Yeah, I probably did because he was still a congressman, and anytime we talk to anybody in the House or Senate or someone directly connected with them, it’s a little unusual,” he said.

Cummins said he documented the conversation in a memo to Mainella “just to keep people informed.”