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ZMD won't seek more information from History Museum for few weeks

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 30, 2013 -  The new policy was adopted on a 5-3 vote at the district’s board meeting in Clayton on Wednesday. Commissioner Thomas Campbell, who proposed it, said he thought that with three investigations into the museum now proceeding, plus an appraisal of land on Delmar bought for a community center but never developed, it was time to suspend information requests and let those activities proceed.

“They don’t need us making duplicate requests for the same information,” Campbell said, adding that he thought some communications with the museum, particularly a letter that was sent to employees’ homes, have been “confrontational and inflammatory.”

Campbell added that what he characterized as “haphazard requests for information” from the museum were inefficient and counterproductive to efforts to put the issues to rest.

His statements, and his motion, did not sit well with three members of the board that have pushed hard for more information and more transparency from the museum.

Jerome Glick said that delaying any efforts to get more information will just prolong the uncertainty and the questions surrounding the museum’s financial dealings with Archibald and with the Delmar property.

“We are letting it lay there and go on and on and on,” he said, “and yes, it will destroy the Missouri History Museum.”

He and fellow commissioners Charles Valier and Gloria Wessels voted against the motion, which called for a suspension of further information requests from the museum until the next ZMD board meeting, probably in the latter half of February.

Valier agreed with Glick that now is not the time to stop pushing for more information.

“To cut this off right now,” he said, “to deny the public this information, I think is a travesty.”

The deciding vote came from commissioner Robert Lowery, the former law enforcement officer who emphasized his long experience with investigations.

Wessels asked whether the motion would preclude her from talking to history museum employees who approach her to discuss issues. When Campbell said that she would have to clear such conversations with Ben Uchitelle, who heads the Zoo-Museum District board, she replied:

“He’s not my boss.”

That exchange is typical of the acrimony that has existed among board members since information about Archibald’s compensation and the purchase of the Delmar property surfaced last year. It led to a new arrangement between the museum’s trustees and the commissioners of the museum’s subdistrict, giving more representation to the commissioners on matters of budget and compensation.

Those changes took effect Jan. 1 of this year, after the museum’s trustees awarded Archibald the payment for his unused vacation days.

That payment, of $566,000, plus a $270,000, six-month consulting contract with Archibald, has continued to rile some commissioners.

During Wednesday's meeting, Valier said that besides those two payments, Archibald had received a third payout -- one Valier termed "substantial" -- that he hoped to receive more information about.

But museum officials later said that the money Valier apparently was referring to was a payment of more than $468,000 due to Archibald under a series of defined contribution retirement plans -- 401(a), 403(b) and 457(f) -- set up by the museum into which both the museum and Archibald contributed. 

Officials said the plans were structured so that he could collect if he retired or resigned from the museum and reflected payments over the 24 years of his employment.

The drumbeat of controversy over Archibald led first to his contract being shortened from three years to one, then to his unexpected resignation after he had signed the contract. After he resigned, the trustees voted to give him the six-month consulting contract, which John Roberts, new head of the museum board, said would largely involve his continued contacts with donors.

Fund-raising at the museum has suffered from the protracted publicity, museum officials said. It suffered another setback when Donna McGinnis, head of development at the museum, left to take a similar job at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

“Unfortunately,” Roberts write in a note to his fellow trustees with the news, “with the slowdown in our capital campaign, Donna believes her talents can now be best utilized in assisting the Garden. In her new role, she will oversee the Garden’s fundraising efforts and lead its upcoming capital campaign.”

Campbell’s motion to suspend requests for information from the museum comes as three investigations are proceeding into various aspects of activities at the museum, by the Board of Aldermen, by Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and by former U.S. Attorney Edward Dowd.

Dowd was hired by the museum trustees to investigate allegations by Valier, Wessels and Glick of possible improper shredding of documents and an overall climate of fear on the part of museum employees.

When he announced Dowd’s investigation in November, Ray Stranghoener, former head of the board, said he was sure that the allegations were unfounded – a statement that has been cited by board members as an indication that the probe was starting from a presumption of innocence and would not be rigorously conducted.

Wednesday’s meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, continued the sharp divisions that have typified recent sessions. Even routine items like the approval of minutes from previous meetings prompted sharp debate and, in a couple of cases, divided votes of 5-3.

Public comments, public interest

At the start of the meeting, during the period set aside for public comments, commissioners heard from two members of the public.

One, Ronald Jackson, called on them to act quickly to strengthen the museum, which he said had moved from a one-time “sanctuary of the privileged” to become an institution that engages and welcomes all segments of the community.

“Egos and special interests must take a back seat to decision making that represents the public interest,” Jackson said, adding: “Do the right thing. The citizens of the St. Louis region are depending on you.”

The other commenter, Jud Calkins, who identified himself as “an outraged taxpayer,” asked the commissioners to move to rescind the consulting contract and vacation payout given to Archibald, which he called “a deliberate slap in the face of taxpayers.”

Uchitelle noted that Roberts and Romondous Stover, chairman of the museum subdistrict board, had emphasized that both of those payments would be coming from privately raised funds, not from tax money. But Calkins told the Beacon that such a statement was “a distinction without a difference.”

“Wherever you take the money out of,” he said, “there is less money to pay for the programs of the History Museum.”

He said that the ZMD commissioners needed to do their fiduciary duty and make clear that an institution that receives tax money cannot make the kind of payments it made to Archibald.

“They have the power of the purse,” he said. “They can tell them whatever they want about future funding.

“Whose side are they on, the taxpayers or the History Museum? It’s unconscionable. It pours kerosene on already troubled waters.”

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