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Archibald signs new History Museum contract, but questions remain

trolley missouri history museum
Rachel Heidenry | 2009
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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - Robert Archibald has signed his new one-year contract as president of the Missouri History Museum with a salary of $375,000, a housing allowance of $33,000, the possibility of a raise and a bonus – and more than $566,000 for 410 vacation days he said he never used.

The Beacon obtained a copy of the contract Friday, which spells out several of the numbers that have been discussed in recent weeks.

The new contract was negotiated on Oct. 26 and signed on Nov. 13. It replaces  an earlier three-year contract, in the wake of strong criticism of Archibald’s compensation and the purchase by the museum of a tract of land on Delmar that had been designated for use as a community center but was never developed.

Under new rules negotiated by former U.S. Sen. John Danforth and accepted by both the museum’s board of trustees and by commissioners of the museum subdistrict of the Zoo-Museum District, future levels of compensation as well as the museum’s budget will be determined by a joint committee made up of equal members of both groups.

But that agreement does not begin until Jan. 1, 2013. Archibald’s new contract, which runs from Dec. 31 of this year to Dec. 31 of 2013, was negotiated with museum trustees in a closed session on the same day the trustees accepted the changes negotiated by Danforth.

Charles Valier, a commissioner of the Zoo-Museum District, has criticized the timing of that move. He noted that it was done so that subdistrict commissioners would have no say in the terms of the revised contract.

But Raymond Stranghoener, head of the museum's board of trustees, said in an interview late Friday that the contract issue had to be settled as soon as possible to lock in gifts from major contributors to the museum's capital campaign.

"A number of our substantial donors were interested in reassurances," he said. "Part of their reason for giving was Dr. Archibald. We were interested in finishing the capital campaign and getting the capital projects being promised to donors off to a good start. Some of our donors even said their decisions about making gifts would depend on some assurances of continuity."

Stranghoener said that by agreeing to have his contract shortened, Archibald had given up a considerable amount in salary. As far as the payout for the unused vacation days, he said it should be viewed more in the context of part of Archibald's retirement package.

And, he added, the money is not being diverted from other projects at the museum but has been accruing for several years in advance of the anticipated payout.

He said Archibald's vacation, which had been as much as 10 weeks a year several years ago, would be four weeks under the new contract.

In general, Stranghoener said, the Archibald has the full support of the board of trustees.

"We don't think there's been any substantiated evidence of wrongdoing on Dr. Archibald's part," he said. "We have been trying to be responsive to concerns that have been raised and see if there were ways to improve communication and transparency with the subdistrict going forward."

Valier and three of his fellow commissioners have been persistent, emphatic critics of Archibald’s performance, terms of his contract and operation of the history museum, which they say needs to be more transparent because it receives $10 million of its $14 million annual budget from public money.

In addition to his salary, possible raise and possible bonus, according to the new contract Archibald also will receive benefits including use of a late model automobile; a fax line, fax machine and computer for use in his home; and insurance coverage that pays 90 percent of his individual health premium and 100 percent of his individual dental premium.

The money for unused vacation -- totaling $566,827.83, or about $377,000 after taxes -- will be paid from privately raised funds that had not been designated for any specific purpose. Stranghoener said the payout has not yet been made but will be done by the end of December.

Learning on Friday of the details of Archibald’s new contract, Valier particularly criticized the provision that the museum president could receive a bonus if authorized by the museum’s board.

“We would take the position that they can’t pay bonuses with tax money,” he told the Beacon. “Paying bonuses to executives of public institutions like the history museum really isn’t justified.

“We got into this a little over a year and a half ago at the science center. The position of the ZMD then, and I wasn’t a member of it, was that paying bonuses to officers of public institutions like that shouldn’t be done. As a legal matter I don’t think it should be done. What profits are you going to measure it on?”

Stranghoener disputed Valier's view, saying:

"We are a semi-public institution. We are really a private institution, but we have a private-public partnership with the ZMD. I think who throws that out there fails to recognize that our legal status is different. Our employees are employees of a private institution. We can pay bonuses. It's not our general policy."

He said that over the years, Archibald has been given two bonuses in the $25,000-$30,000 range for outstanding effort but there are no plans to give him bonuses in the future.

Valier also questioned once again the time off given to Archibald – six weeks of research and writing in addition to his vacation – and the payout for the 410 vacation days Archibald said he did not take. With an annual allotment of eight weeks of vacation, or 40 days, Valier noted that the total would mean Archibald took no vacation at all for the equivalent of more than 10 years.

The 410 days were frozen at that level in 2007. But Valier said he would like to see documentation for the validity of that total before any money is paid out. He noted that the museum says it scrapped an old computer server that had the data in 2011 as part of its recycling program.

“It’s a little suspect if they destroyed something in 2011 that appears to be in violation of their retention schedule and they are not able to recoup the data,” he said. “Until they can independently verify that, they shouldn’t be paying it.”

Stranghoener strongly denied any wrongdoing in the accounting for the unusued vacation, but to allay any suspicions, he said the matter was being referred to the audit committee of the board of trustees. He said the inquiry would be led by former U.S. Attorney Edward Dowd.

"The museum's trustees are referring this inquiry to the audit committee out of frustration with the individuals who continue to conduct a campaign of false, misleading and unfounded allegations against the museum and its leadership," Stranghoener said in a statement. "The independent inquiry, which will be paid for using privately raised funds, is expected to start next week."

Valier said that despite Wednesday’s 4-4 vote on whether to accept the report of the audit committee, he expects the report will eventually win approval from the district’s commissioners, though he did not want to say what procedure would be used to get to that point.

Asked about the possibility of a criminal investigation into the running of the museum, a possibility raised by commissioner Robert Lowery Sr., Valier said that wasn’t his goal and he did not expect to get involved.

“My objective in all of this is to reform the structure of the history museum so it is accountable to the public,” he said. “It’s not currently accountable to the public, and it doesn’t operate in a transparent manner.”

And, he noted, commissioners of the Zoo-Museum District retain significant power over the history museum’s operation.

“They still have to come to us for money,” Valier said.

Stranghoener countered that the board of the district has already approved the history museum's tax rate for next year, so the issue would not be coming up until the end of 2013.

"I hope by that point in time," he added, "whoever the ZMD directors are will recognize that Bob Achibald has acted appropriately, that the trustees and the staff of the museum have responded in a very forthcoming way to all of the issues that have been raised by the ZMD board and that this issue of threatening to withhold taxes will not be an issue."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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