By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — The executive director for Historic Salisbury Foundation will not return after an extended leave of absence, leaving the organization without a permanent leader for the second time in 14 months.
Cynthia Cole Jenkins, who was hired March 1 and took personal leave in mid-July, said the foundation’s board of trustees called recently to ask whether she will return to the job. Jenkins told the Post she would like to resume her role but could not commit yet due to personal matters.
Jenkins’ mother died in April. Jenkins said she is settling her mother’s estate and has other ongoing personal commitments away from Salisbury that arose after she took the job last spring.
“I’m still dealing with a lot of things, trying to get them resolved in my life,” said Jenkins, who is living in South Carolina.
Susan Sides, president of the foundation, told the Post Jenkins said she wouldn’t be able to determine for several more months whether she could return.
“We can’t wait that long,” Sides said.
Sides had fond words for Jenkins.
“I miss her so much already,” she said. “She was such an asset to the community and of course to the foundation. Her knowledge of preservation was just incredible.”
Jenkins has been on unpaid leave since mid-July, when the board appointed David Post as interim executive director. Post was a board member and chairman of OctoberTour.
She said she has no hard feelings toward her former employer.
“It’s kind of sad, but Historic Salisbury has a lot of things they need to resolve,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully they will get those done.”
She named fundraising and managing several properties as issues the foundation is grappling with. The group is no different than many other historic organizations in the country, she said.
Post said the departure of two executive directors in short succession isn’t good for Historic Salisbury, which sometimes suffers from negative public opinion. He said another turnover in leadership can “leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.”
“It raises questions about how the organization is being managed,” Post said.
Shortly after her mother’s death, Jenkins said she discovered the historic house she was leasing in Salisbury had mold, which sickened her and her family, causing them to move out. An engineer and home inspector confirmed water problems and mold in the home, she said.
The owner of the home, who lives in California, did not respond to requests for comment from the Post. The house was recently taken off the market.
Rather than lease another house in Salisbury, Jenkins said she decided to move closer to her mother’s home so she could settle the estate and sell the property.
She said she was making good progress in resolving her personal matters and “would have liked to come back.”
“I was really looking forward to helping the foundation move into their next 40 years,” she said.
Jenkins delivered a lecture on preservation during OctoberTour last month, the foundation’s premier fundraiser, and received a standing ovation. She said she found Salisbury unusually welcoming and in the short time she was here made many friends who continue to stay in touch.
The foundation board will conduct a search for Jenkins’ replacement, Sides said. It took more than a year to hire Jenkins after Jack Thomson left to lead preservation efforts in Asheville and Buncombe County.
While not speaking for the board, Sides said she personally hopes Post will agree to stay on as interim director during the search for a new permanent employee. Post, a lawyer and an accountant, has the knowledge and energy the foundation needs during a transition to new permanent leadership, Sides said.
Post has proven an effective fundraiser, nearly tripling the money raised during OctoberTour this year and bringing in more than $60,000 in sponsorships. Attendance at the home tour fell about 20 percent, probably due to the economy and competition from simultaneous events that were either free or less expensive, Post said.
The tour also lacked a “blockbuster house” that would draw large crowds, Post said, and he encouraged more owners of grand historic homes in Salisbury to participate.
The board will not rush the search for Jenkins’ replacement, Sides said, and may contact the other two finalists Jenkins beat for the job. The search committee will look for candidates with backgrounds in preservation, business and administration.
The board meets Nov. 17 to form a search committee.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
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