Inquiry into Sicily's archaeological parks, part 1. Mayors as superintendents

A two-part investigation into how the protection of archaeology in Sicily is changing: here, in the technical-scientific committees of archaeological parks, mayors can also sit. Here are problems and consequences of this approach.

“The great effort to which the future is called is to achieve the maximum possible objective knowledge to be placed as the basis for policy decisions,” jurist Feliciano Benvenuti wrote in 2006. Confusing the plans between those who should provide that technical knowledge and those who should translate it into political action represents the failure of that “great effort” to which the “future” was called. This is what is happening in Sicily, going even further: protection from the Superintendencies passes into the hands of the mayors. And it brings to mind Renzi when he said that “superintendence” is “the ugliest word in the vocabulary,” or the mayor of Florence Dario Nardella (Italia Viva) who asked the government that the mayors of cities of art be given the ability to overcome constraints on historic-artistic heritage.

From Florence to Palermo, it is still a member of Italia Viva, Luca Sammartino, who last year attempted with a ddl to delegate to municipalities the granting of landscape authorizations. Attempt unsuccessful (articles scrapped), this time it is the turn of the Leghist councillor of Cultural Heritage and Sicilian Identity Alberto Samonà, already bitterly criticized for the museum warehouses opened wide to private individuals, to experiment with a new “genetic mutation” of protection. Worrisome because it goes to affect the most relevant slice of the entire Sicilian cultural heritage, that of the 14 archaeological parks, millions of square meters of territory, a concentration of cultural and landscape assets among the most important in the world.

Almost three months ago, on Feb. 13, Samonà announced that he would soon appoint the technical-scientific committees of these parks: “it is an act that finds its foundation in the law,” he said, “and that expresses a precise will of the Musumeci government.” It is difficult not to notice the temporal coincidence with which not even two weeks earlier in La Sicilia the writer had reported the inexplicable delay in the installation of these bodies both in the parks of old institution and in those born two years ago, which had condemned these institutes to a long commissionership, wanted precisely by the current government, not justified by any "emergency.“ As if government-issued commissioners had been placed in the autonomous museums and parks of the Ministry of Culture instead of boards of directors, committees and boards of auditors. ”It is an act that is grounded in the law,“ precisely, while the prolonged commissionership does not rely on any regional law, since the appointment of commissioners is provided for only in the event that the boards of directors have failed to adopt the general statement of accounts or the operating budget within the time limits (l.r. no. 16/2017). In any case, this is a commissioner limited to the ”immediate adoption of the accounting document and for the reconstitution of the lapsed governing body." Instead, these commissioners have been systematically renewed, turning an already unjustified “emergency” management into an ordinary one. In particular, the committees of the ten parks set up in the April 11, 2018 batch ordered by Regional President Nello Musumeci (“one of the most significant missions of the government,” the communiqué read), as acting alderman, should have been appointed within two months of that institution and, instead, two years have passed.

There is a stark contrast between the speed of those institutions and the antediluvian timing with which the establishment of co-governance bodies that can really make these institutions the outposts of palingenesis, including economic ones, for a significant slice of the regional heritage, represented by archaeological sites, has been postponed.

Il Parco di Himera. Foto di Clemens Franz
Himera Park. Photo by Clemens Franz

The director-commissioner operational diarchy.

While waiting for the councilor to take action, the parks thus remain in the hands of an operational diarchy: park director and commissioner. Where the former is also an expression of “sovereign” choice. The park directors who bear the signature of Musumeci alderman were directly appointed by him. Doubts about the procedural aspects are not lacking.

Unlike, in fact, what is provided for all other directors, superintendents or museum directors, these appointments were made by passing the selective procedure with public notice. According to well-established case law on the subject, any appointment cannot be given on an “ad personam” appointment, but must go through comparative selection. Even the albeit contested international competitions for autonomous state super-directors, starting with the first one in 2015, provided for the minister to choose from a trio of candidates.

Rovine di Selinunte. Foto di Franck Manogil
Ruins of Selinunte. Photo by Franck Manogil

From pioneering law to unsuccessful implementation

The committees are one of the key links in the “Sicilian model” of decentralized governance, envisioned in 2000 by the “Granata Law” that established the Valley of the Temples Archaeological and Landscape Park, at the same time dictating the rules for the establishment of the archaeological park system in Sicily. A pioneering and advanced law in its general outlines, which gave these institutes "scientific and research, organizational, administrative and financial autonomy." It is this law that inspired the Franceschini Reform in 2014. A norm, it is better to emphasize, that is not limited “only” to the establishment of individual parks, but that conceives them framed in a system, precisely, in a broader dimension of interconnection, in order to generate economies of scale, through the sharing of services, instrumentation and professional skills. Concepts with which we are familiar today, those of “system” and “network,” but which make it an extraordinarily modern law for the time. And which remains so to this day, since a “park system” is not contemplated in the state. The Sicilian archaeological park is something different from the state. The very definition contained in the Cultural Heritage Code (Art. 101, paragraph 2, lett. e) fails to restore its specificity: that of a suprasystem that unites the pre-eminent, archaeological monumental emergencies with the landscape and environment, without reducing itself to the sum of these categories, but expressing a new value in itself, with which it moves from a static approach, such as still that of the “open-air museum” (still referred to in the Code), to a dynamic one, in which the park must aim to enhance archaeological potential by encouraging its interaction with the socio-economic potential of the area.

It was this law that introduced the archaeological park as an institutional entity 14 years before the Ministerial Reform (the Code only provides a definition) and the principle of financial autonomy that would allow for the retention of revenues from the management activity of the conferred assets. This makes it possible to speed up the procedures related to accounting, expenditures, concessions, or even receipt of funds from private individuals. A mirage. Apart from Valley of the Temples, Naxos, Selinunte and Segesta, for all the rest of the parks a treasury and cash service has not yet been activated, so they continue to receive, with delays, allocations from the central offices and everything they earn ends up in the single cauldron of the regional budget.

A law, however, not free of contradictions and shortcomings that have emerged in their full extent in the implementation phase, attempted several times in the last decade under the Lombardo, Crocetta and most recently Musumeci governments (I have devoted numerous articles to thetopic, in "Il Giornale dell’Arte“and ”Il Giornale dell’Architettura,“ relaunched in ”Emergenza Cultura“ and in all the main Sicilian paper newspapers). A long history of bad politics and administration (”BlogSicilia"), where there is also room for a ghost park, Segesta, and one established without perimeter, Pantelleria. Twenty years in which only three parks have seen the light of day. Until the incumbent government took care of creating all the others, at the cost of tricks, circumvented laws, “creatively” interpreted, forced appearances between cultural sites and commissioners instead of governance bodies. By giving up on focusing on selected and qualified hubs of excellence, it is not difficult to predict, for example, that autonomy will not be sustainable for those with little change in their coffers. It is a luxury for only a handful of parks, the “biggies” that have a certain turnover in takings such as those that currently already have it. Of the new ones, only Syracuse and Piazza Armerina will be able to make it.

To enable the financial management procedures to begin, an "equalization fund“ was created in the recent Budget Law, which Councillor Samonà called a ”revolution." His tragically deceased predecessor, Sebastiano Tusa, had already thought of this. In fact, a similar financial equalization fund has already been created since 2015 for the institutes of the Ministry of Culture, where, however, the transfer of funds to the economically stronger ones in favor of the weaker ones takes place to the extent of 20 percent of the ticketing, while in Sicily it is just 10 percent. And while a reward mechanism is provided for the former, if something like this is not thought of for Sicily’s “weaker” parks as well, the risk is that of favoring an “undynamic” management by those directors of the small facilities who could rest on an economic contribution rained down from above and do only ordinary administration, without developing any projects for their own structure. The grant could be commensurate, for example, with the management ability of the directorate to know how to administer its funds, in measuring the scientific and popular activities of the administered heritage, in the ability to promote cultural events, etc. Let’s put in a third-party structure that can judge these activities.

But financial issue aside, let’s return to what at first glance would seem to be good news: the alderman finally wants to establish technical-scientific bodies to flank the directors. Especially since, as we have been denouncing for years, the latter are rarely archaeologists. If not archaeologists, who should “preside over” institutes that, unlike multidisciplinary superintendencies, are thematic? And, in fact, they are called archaeological parks and not, holistically, “cultural parks.”

If, however, we go to see the nature of these committees, their composition and tasks, the question begins to take another turn. In spite of the name, these are, in fact, collegial bodies that rather than technicians will have a majority of political subjects, representing territorial entities other than the Region (the municipalities), with the power to express an opinion even on matters pertaining to protection. What the councilor is preparing for is, in short, the establishment of a veritable army that will make these committees plethoric and unmanageable bodies.

Il Teatro di Segesta. Foto di Davide Mauro
The Theater of Segesta. Photo by Davide Mauro

Who is the scientific and technical committee composed of?

Although criticized for various aspects, the Franceschini-branded reform did not mix administrative and political functions: in the bodies that flank the state director alongside the technicians do not sit mayors, as in Sicily. Here, in fact, the committees have the following composition: the superintendent, who presides over them; the mayor or mayors of the municipalities in which the park falls; two experts designated by the Assessore dei beni culturali from among university professors or members of cultural and environmental foundations or associations “of national importance,” and one expert designated by the mayor or mayors, again from among professors or members of foundations and associations “of national importance.”

Compare with state parks. The Scientific Committee, which cooperates with the director in deciding scientific lines, consists of 4 members appointed by the minister, Superior Council BBCC, region and municipality, identified from among tenured university professors or experts with proven scientific qualifications. Thus, the mayor does not sit directly on the committee, but one of his experts does.

In the Sicilian committees, on the other hand, there are precisely the mayors of the territories included in the parks, up to the record number of nine for one park, Himera. There are more parks in Sicily than in the rest of the Peninsula: as many as 14 versus eight. Aside from the Valley of the Temples (established in 2000), Naxos (2007), and Segesta (2018), the ten held in 2019 by Regional President Nello Musumeci, in the guise then of Acting Branch Councillor, due to incongruous amalgamations fall in more municipalities: in 9 that of Himera, in 6 that of Catania, in 4 that of Syracuse, Tindari and Kamarina, in 4 that of Morgantina and Villa Romana del Casale, and that of the Aeolian Islands. Selinunte, established in 2013, was expanded in 2019 with Cave di Cusa and Pantelleria, thus falling, no longer into one municipality, but into three.

At the basis of aggregations like the latter or that Villa del Casale with Morgantina, or Himera with Solunto and Monte Jato, it is already difficult to identify common thematic characters (typological: temples, sepulchral villas, etc.; synchronic: late antique villas, etc.; diachronic: wine production from the Roman age to the present day, etc.), let alone trying to figure out by what criteria other dependent sites (not included in the perimeter), other than administrative ones from cauldron logic, were further assigned. Result, an even more extensive geography, redrawn as indicated on the Department’s website: so that, for example, the Archaeological Park of Gela, which by the decree of establishment falls under a single municipality, comes to count 10, 10 also that of Tindari, Kamarina 9, Catania 7, Morgantina 6, and so on. Samonà speaks of “direct involvement of the mayors on whose territory the parks insist,” but the first citizens of these municipalities of the aggregated sites have not been convened in organs, the committees, in which, yet, the “park community” should have the right to representation.In short, considered as second-class mayors.

And even without them, what is intended to be appointed is, in any case, a predominantly political team, in organs, best to remember, that should be "technical.“ Take Himera again: as many as 13 people should sit on the committee. In that of the most famous Italian park in the world, Pompeii are, in addition to the director, 4. It is not only a quantitative issue, but a qualitative one. While the mayors, in fact, were called to converge on the name of an expert, their own ”category" is distinctly represented by each of them: 9 mayors, that is, politicians, versus 4 technicians, to stay with the Himera example. Thirteen heads called to deal not only with technical-scientific issues, but also with managerial ones. Another Sicilian aberration.

Scavi archeologici a Morgantina. Foto di Carlo Columba
Archaeological excavations at Morgantina. Photo by Carlo Columba

The tasks of the committees

In fact, the Committee also serves as the Board of Directors, a management body. Its opinion supplements the effectiveness of administrative acts and it is called upon to express its opinion on the budget scheme, the annual and three-year program, the interventions to be carried out, and to adopt the management statement.

We come, thus, to the heart of the matter: the most worrying fact is that the regional law allows that as an exception to the Cultural Heritage Code, it is these committees, thus composed, that authorize, replacing the Superintendent, the interventions proposed by the director, including demolitions, within the perimeter of the park and issue the landscape authorization (Articles 21 and 146 of Legislative Decree 42/2004). This is stipulated in Law 20 and is also reiterated in the Parks Regulations under the heading “Issuance of Opinions.” This is an unprecedented interference of politics in matters that should be the prerogative only of technicians. And not of technicians in a generic way. Neither should outside technicians such as university professors or representatives of associations, let alone the mayor’s representative, who do not have the tools to give input on protection issues. It is only the Superintendency that has the ownership.

On “technicians” let’s understand again: personalities “of national importance” requires the law. Vague formula that in the past has by no means mandated the appointment of high-profile personalities. And not high profile in aerospace engineering. In parks that call themselves archaeological, there must be archaeologists. Not like in Tindari, where in a park with 11 archaeological sites there is miraculously only one. Only truly distinguished personalities justify the presence of external technicians in a park that has scientific and research autonomy (l.r. 20/2000, art. 20, c. 8) and already provides for technical-scientific figures in its staff.

Now, it is true that the superintendent chairs the committee, but because of that waiver and since the opinion is expressed by majority vote, his pronouncement can be outvoted by interests expressed by the territories, which are not always compatible with the needs of cultural heritage conservation. Mayors may, in other words, may find themselves in the conflicting situation of on the one hand acting as spokespersons for those interests and on the other hand being called upon to express an opinion on them. They will be in a blatant conflict of interest whenever somewhat restrictive measures have to be adopted in the territories they administer. Let us not forget that the Park consists of property belonging to the regional state property, subject to archaeological and landscape constraints over which competence cannot be delegated to mayors. We would arrive at the paradox whereby the mayor of a municipality in the case of the imposition of an archaeological constraint, superordinate to the General Regulatory Plan, would have to adapt the Prg to the constraint and, on the contrary, would find himself with decision-making power, able to affect the choices that affect the Park’s state property.

Another paradox. When these parks were created, in the perimeter process the municipality concerned was required to give its opinion within 45 days (Art. 20 paragraph 4), but the opinion was still not binding. Same law, now instead the mayor has decision-making power!

It is also a question of weights. In one of the most important parks in terms of extension and archaeological heritage, that of Syracuse, the vote of the mayor of the capital is worth as much as that of the mayor of, for example, Avola, who sits at the table only because only the small villa of Borgellusa was included in the park.

This very serious breach in protection had not escaped the 2001 Guidelines for Archaeological Parks, which, stigmatizing “the exceptional character of this last provision, which constitutes a derogation from the normal competencies in the area of protection of cultural and landscape heritage,” and “in view of the composition of the committee itself,” re-established that “this opinion remains delegated to the Superintendencies.”

In the state, the protection issue was resolved by giving the Park Director all the duties of a Superintendent for the assigned territory. A solution, moreover, not spared from criticism due to the fact that the directors of these autonomous institutes are accused of not being so well versed in the subject matter, since they can also be specialists co-opted by international competition not only from within the Ministry, and thus including superintendents, but also from outside, such as university professors or foreign specialists. Let’s say, then, that the Sicilian “formula” with the superintendent chairing the committee could be an interesting alternative, as long as that absurd and very dangerous exception is eliminated, leaving all matters pertaining to protection to be instructed by his office.

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