Arts & Culture
6:16 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

ZMD Board Says History Museum Needs Complete Overhaul

The board charged with distributing taxpayer funds to the five members of the St. Louis Zoo-Museum District says the Missouri History Museum needs a complete restructuring.  The Zoo-Museum District was created to oversee public funding for the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Science Center, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Missouri History Museum.

Missouri History Museum
Credit Credit (via Flickr/Reading Tom)

The ZMD Audit Committee met Thursday and claim the reforms recommended for the History Museum by former Senator Jack Danforth do not go far enough.

Danforth was asked by Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Charlie Dooley to investigate management at the History Museum amid questionable land purchases by Museum President Bob Archibald, and lax oversight by the museum’s board of trustees.  

ZMD board member Charlie Valier says Danforth’s recommendations do nothing about the cozy relationship between the museum’s board and President Bob Archibald.

“It simply leaves the governance with the private, non-profit corporation of the Missouri Historical Society,” Valier said. “They’re really responsible for everything that has gone wrong, and really haven’t exercised good oversight in running the History Museum.”

Danforth’s plan also preserves Archibald’s $515,000 salary—a figure Valier says is second only to the director of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.  Danforth’s arrangement also approves a $585,000 payout for unused vacation time. 

ZMD board member Ben Uchitelle says that money will be covered by private funds from the Museum’s Board of Trustees, an idea which was roundly criticized by the audit committee.

“That’s $600,000 that could be spend on the museum,” Valier said.

“Its $600,000 of taxpayer money which will not otherwise be spent on his bonus or his vacation pay,” countered Uchitelle.

“It's all the same money, it’s a distinction without a difference,” countered fellow board member Gloria Wessels.

“I disagree,” replied Uchitelle. “I think when we start to look at the compensation arrangements of the History Museum, the Science Center, the Art Museum, the Zoo, and Shaw's Garden, you’ll find that the top people at all of those institutions receive considerably more money than the other employees.”

“But not one of them gets the benefit of this unused vacation pay,” Valier said.

Uchitelle says the board of trustees has apparently negotiated a new contract with Archibald for only one year, and Archibald's services are necessary to continue the Museum's capital campaign.

After last year’s revelations of mismanagement at the St. Louis Science Center ZMD Board Member Jerome Glick says the History Museum has existed under a complete lack of transparency and tougher measures are required in order to retain the trust of city and county taxpayers.

“We did the job with the Science Center, there were major abuses of the taxpayer’s money there, and the Science Center is on its way,” Glick said. “The History Museum, in my opinion is not on its way yet.”

Glick says a complete restructure of the History Museum is necessary, including the Board of Trustees.  He says the ZMD won’t be able to act on these issues until January of next year at the earliest, but would not rule out the withholding taxpayer funds until the issues with the Missouri History Museum are addressed.

Follow Adam Allington on Twitter:  @aallington