STANFORD — The director of the First Southern Community Arts Center intends to step down by the end of April, but members of Stanford City Council are reluctant to see him go.
Bob Swett, who began in his position as arts center director in 2011, submitted a letter to Stanford Mayor Bill Miracle Jan. 23 explaining his intentions to leave by May 1.
"At this time, I have lots of family health issues and other family situations that need attention and three parcels of land to help maintain," Swett wrote in the letter. "… About the 15th of March, I'll start using my sick and vacation days, which should (carry) me to about May 1st."
The actual date Swett leaves could change — Miracle said Swett is willing to work with the city as a transition is worked out.
Miracle presented the letter to city council members Thursday night, saying it amounted to a letter of resignation but he was hesitant to accept it.
"I think if Bob leaves this arts program, we have the potential of losing it all together," Miracle said. "He's done a really super good job."
Swett said he sees his decision more as a retirement than a resignation. He told council members the arts program is "growing and continuing to grow" and he does not want to see it go away.
In his letter, Swett recommended several local people he believes could serve as art director after him, naming WPBK broadcaster Renee Knies as his "#1 pick." Others Swett named include David Miracle, Bobb Woods, Jeff Lay and Christopher Long.
Alternatively, Swett also suggested a team of three — Woods, David Miracle and Roni Gilpin — could "cover all bases."
"I'd like to start working with someone the first of March if at all possible," Swett wrote. "We have built up a new and exciting program and I think we need to keep it going for the good of the city."
Councilmen Mike Southerland and Eddie Carter both expressed strong appreciation for the work Swett has done attracting people to Stanford.
"I don't think that we could have had anybody come into that position and put in as much work as you have," Southerland said.
Southerland noted he had never seen as many people in downtown Stanford as when an estimated 6,000 packed the streets for September's Arts and Music Festival. Carter credited Swett with helping Stanford earn the No. 1 host city ranking during the 2012 Bourbon Chase running event.
Councilman Tom Moser was less thrilled about the arts center's presence and questioned whether the city can afford to continue funding it.
Moser didn't like the idea that many of the people taking advantage of the arts center's programming aren't from Stanford.
"I don't know that the city can afford to take care of the arts department for the whole county and parts of other counties," he said. "I'm not fussing, I just want to know whether Stanford is utilizing it."
Swett noted it would be extremely difficult to get actual statistics on residency of arts center patrons, but estimated as much as 75 percent of the community participation the arts center gets is from people who live outside Stanford.
Mayor Miracle added he believes it's a good thing for Stanford if the program is drawing many people into the city who might not come otherwise.
Stanford's Community Arts Program was funded with a budget of $40,000 in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
This fiscal year, the city council approved a budget that merged the arts program and the former Main Street program into a single Main Street and Arts Program, headed up by Swett.
The program's 2012-2013 budget is $48,577, with $39,000 of that cost expected to be covered by programming at the arts center.
Swett's salary and benefits cost about $35,000.