Probe finds no proof of shredded documents at History Museum
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 20, 2013 - The interim report presented Wednesday morning by former U.S. Attorney Edward Dowd Jr. to the audit committee of the museum’s board of trustees was the result of more than 40 interviews with current and former museum employees, including Archibald, plus reviews of security logs and surveillance video.
Dowd said his firm’s final report would be done in the next two to three weeks, but he wanted to release the interim findings now because "we wanted the citizens of St. Louis to know what we have found out."
He said his findings were backed by "conclusive, irrefutable evidence," adding:
"We are 100 percent confident in the findings we are giving you today."
Not so convinced were two commissioners of the Zoo-Museum District, whose information had prompted the museum trustees to hire Dowd. Charles Valier and Gloria Wessels, who attended Dowd’s presentation at the museum, said that investigators had concentrated on the wrong dates, so it is not surprising that they did not find evidence of improper handling of the documents.
Dowd said that his firm investigated the dates that Valier and Wessels had told him about but still found no evidence to support allegations that they said had been made by museum employees.
Still, Valier pressed his point that without proper documentation, Archibald should not have been paid $566,000 for unused vacation days. The money was paid to him late last year; he resigned from his position shortly thereafter, despite having signed a contract to head the museum for another year.
"That’s been our point all along," Valier said. "They paid him without independent verification."
He noted that rather than looking at what might have happened on Nov. 26, the focus of Dowd's investigation, the focus should have been on dates in October and earlier in November, according to information he and Wessels had received.
"It is amazing how Ed could get all the dates wrong," Valier said. "Like everything the History Museum has done it was a total waste of time. It was a totally botched investigation."
That wasn't the view of John Roberts, who is the head of the museum’s board of trustees and de facto head of the museum until a search finds Archibald’s successor — a search that has not yet begun. He said in a statement that Dowd’s interim report shows that the suspicions raised by Valier and Wessels have no foundation.
"The intimation of these individual ZMD commissioners, who were not acting pursuant to any authority granted to them by a majority of their commission, has unfairly and without merit impugned the reputation of our loyal and hard working employees," Roberts' statement said.
Dowd said his firm has billed the trustees $32,000 for the investigation so far and expects the final total will be around $50,000. The money, Roberts said in an interview, will come from private funds, not taxpayer dollars, even though the allegations were raised by members of the board that oversees the public funds that make up $10 million of the museum’s $14 million annual budget.
"I think we could charge the taxpayers," he said. "We are not going to. I think taxpayer funds should pay for the legitimate operations of the museum, not tracking down spurious allegations."
Martin Galt, head of the audit committee, introduced Dowd by saying the trustees had instructed him "to find out what the truth is and let the chips fall where they may."
Specifically, Dowd’s firm investigated charges made anonymously and revealed by Valier and Wessels that Karen Goering, the museum’s director of operations, had left the museum with boxes of papers without the required package permit and that security policies had been changed to allow high-level museum officials to leave the building without inspection.
Letting museum employees know there would be no reprisals for any information they provided, Dowd and his team interviewed a wide range of workers as well as members of the Zoo-Museum District board and others. They reviewed log books, preserved and looked at video surveillance video, preserved electronic communications and looked at other information, including electronic logs that showed when employees entered and left the building.
They also collected, stored and secured shredding devices and shredding collections bins at the museum.
Dowd’s report concentrated on activities reported to have taken place on Nov. 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving of last year. One security officer — who Dowd said remains employed at the museum — said she saw Goering remove between eight and 12 boxes of materials from the museum that she would not allow to be inspected. The officer said she was threatened with dismissal if she continued to question Goering about the contents of the boxes.
But, Dowd’s report added, video recordings and interviews with other employees found no evidence to corroborate her claims. Nor did evidence show that Goering or other employees removed materials at any other time, the report said.
Dowd said the employee in question had been reprimanded by Goering at some point and the relationship between the two was not good.
Further, the report added that employees interviewed said that Goering was a "stickler" for following security procedures that she had helped to establish and implement.
Goering and her former assistant acknowledged that they had shredded old brochures from the Lewis and Clark exhibit on a Sunday in early November, as confirmed by information found by the investigators. A member of the housekeeping staff reported receiving a call to come and remove a bag of shredded material, and Goering and her assistant were present when the housekeeper arrived.
Dowd’s investigation did find that documentation that could have helped to support Archibald’s reimbursement for unused vacation days was destroyed as part of a computer upgrade in 2011.
But the interim report noted that the transition to the new computer software came long before any allegations related to the determination of the vacation payout, and there was no evidence to support claims by Wessels and Valier that all records that would document his vacation days have been destroyed.
Asked whether his investigation showed adequate security at the museum, Dowd said that was not his focus, but security people seemed to be good at their job.
Joining the meeting by telephone, trustee Sandra Moore said she hopes that the final report can be done as soon as possible and Dowd’s firm is comfortable with their findings, "so we can stop wasting taxpayer money going over the same thing."
Other investigations into the museum include a probe by the Board of Aldermen and another one by Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce. Dowd said his office has been cooperating with Joyce’s office in her inquiry.
As for what Valier and Wessels plan to do next, he would say only that "I’m going to think about it, going to look at what they have written and come to a rational decision, not a spur of the moment decision."
Karen Goering is a contributor to the Beacon.