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Historical Commission's head resigns after 1 year

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The executive director of the Alabama Historical Commission is stepping down after one year in which he was able to bring calm to an agency that had been the repeated target of Confederate heritage groups.

The commission's executive committee voted Tuesday to accept the resignation of John Neubauer from the $120,000-a-year post he started last September. Neubauer agreed to work until Sept. 30 while the commission decides how to seek a replacement.

Neubauer took the job after retiring from the Air Force as a colonel whose duties included serving as vice president of support services at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. Neubauer said he was stepping down as the commission's top staff person "for personal health reasons" and a desire to have a less stressful life.

Commission members said they regretted Neubauer's decision to leave.

"His tenure has been marked by strengthened relationships with the public, visible improvements at our historic sites and sound fiscal management," commission Chairman James P. "Ike" Adams said.

The commission, an appointed board that oversees the state's historic preservation agency, hired Neubauer after a two-year search to replace Lee Warner.

Warner served as executive director from 1999 until 2004, when he stepped down citing differences with the commission and the governor over civil rights preservation projects. State examiners had also criticized his financial management practices.

Confederate heritage advocates who frequently sparred with Warner over what they viewed as neglect of Civil War sites had nothing but praise for Neubauer on Tuesday.

'A great loss'

Bill Anthony of Tallassee, an officer in the Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Neubauer had shown he wanted to be fair to all segments of the state's history.

"It's a great loss to the state," he said in a phone interview.

Ben Hestley of Pell City, former chief of heritage defense for the Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Neubauer had started renovating historic sites that had been allowed to run down during Warner's tenure, including Confederate Gen. Joe Wheeler's Pond Spring home near Courtland.

"We are sad to see him resign," Hestley said.

Neubauer said he met with supporters of all the state's historic sites and tried to work with all of them.

The executive director, who had never worked in historic preservation before, said he found that being the top staff member for the Historical Commission was much like being a base commander in the Air Force because it involved finances, public relations and construction. But he said there was one major difference: "We are incredibly underfunded."

The commission's executive committee has not decided how it will look for Neubauer's successor. Commission members said the national search firm that helped find Neubauer has offered to help again at no charge because he didn't stay longer than a year, but Gov. Bob Riley sent word to the commission through his state tourism director that he would like to make some recommendations for executive director.

"He will soon have several candidates for executive director," Tourism Director Lee Sentell told the executive committee.

Adams said he and two other commission members hope to meet with Riley soon to discuss the next step in replacing Neubauer.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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