History Museum
7:50 pm
Tue January 15, 2013

Circuit Attorney Will Look Into Issues At History Museum

Updated at 8:00 p.m. with statement from Missouri History Museum.

The prosecutor in the city of St. Louis will look into some of the governance and oversight issues plaguing the Missouri History Museum.

"Upon request, we have agreed to review concerns brought to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in connection with the Missouri History Museum. At this point, it would be inappropriate to discuss this matter further," Jennifer Joyce said in an written statement. 

The request came from Ald. Joe Roddy, the chair of the  Parks and Environmental Matters Committee. He has convened hearings on the issues, which first arose in an audit of the museum, and grew to include concerns about the level of compensation for former director Robert Archibald, who resigned last month.

Roddy said the board did not have the resources to investigate allegations of document shredding, and whether the museum properly accounted for Archibald's vacation days. He says his committee will continue to look into the governance issues and make some recommendations that he hopes will improve the image of the History Museum.

In a statement, the president of the Missouri History Museum's Board of Trustees, John Roberts, said he supported Roddy's request to get Joyce involved:

"We are unaware of any violation of the law by any employee of the History Museum, [but] we believe that the Circuit Attorney's office is a better place than the Board of Aldermen for any such investigation to take place. Accordingly, we agree with Alderman Roddy on this point and pledge our cooperation with any investigation that Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, after reviewing the allegations and evidence presented to date, believes is appropriate."

Much of the dispute originates in a question of  who has operational control of the History Museum's finances. An appointed board sets the tax rates for five cultural institutions in the city - the History Museum, the Zoo, the Science Center, the Art Museum and the Missouri Botanical Garden. The five institutions then have separate appointed boards that are supposed to oversee their day-to-day operations. Boards of trustees were meant to raise money for the organization.

But Charles Valier, a former state representative who helped develop that structure, says it got turned on its head at the History Museum.

"There's been a systemic failure of government at the History Museum," Valier said. "The History Museum is run by trustees who are not appointed by any public official, nor are they accountable to any public official."

Valier and Gloria Wessels, another member of the overall Zoo-Museum District board and the wife of an alderman, requested the hearings. Wessels says she's glad they will continue despite Archibald's resignation.

"Your action to hold these hearings was certainly an impetus to his departure from the museum, but we now must investigate the actions of the trustees," she said.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann