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Archive for Friday, July 16, 1999

S REPORT CRITICIZES ABILITY OF HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO FUNCTION

July 16, 1999

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The state auditor is recommending organizational changes to the Kansas State Historical Society.

A state audit team has recommended the Legislature consider restructuring the Kansas State Historical Society.

The society's current organizational structure, "is confusing " lacks clear lines of authority and responsibility " and place considerable power in the hands of one official," auditors concluded in a report released this week. "The state historical society now operates as two separate entities within a single agency."

The society, founded in 1875, has evolved over time to become both a state agency and not-for-profit corporation. About 90 percent of the society's annual $8.3 million budget is from the government, the other 10 percent from private donations, sales and membership dues.

The society's dual nature, unusual among state agencies, prompted the auditor's recommendation.

High among auditors' concerns was the fact the society's executive director is appointed by the society's board instead of appointed by the governor as is the case with other state agency heads.

"Giving the executive director control over moneys and resources of the private and public sides of the society creates a situation where that position could make decisions that aren't in the best interests of one side or the other," auditors said.

But they also were careful to note that their concerns reflected potential not actual problems at the society.

The audit "brought up some things we had not perceived as a problem," said Nancy Holt of Belleville, chairman of the society's executive committee. "We really thought it was a fairly benign report."

Ramon Powers is executive director of the Kansas State Historical Society and secretary of the not-for-profit corporation of the same name.

Auditors also said the society could improve its fund-raising and do a better job of maintaining its sites.

Holt disagreed.

"Our historical sites are in the best shape they've been in 10 years," she said.

But about 30 percent of the 58 society board members who responded to a survey told auditors they thought the society wasn't effective at maintaining its historic sites.

Society defenders noted the agency has done the best it could to tend the sites given its "limited resources."

The biggest issue cited by auditors were concerns over accountability.

The director is chosen by the 99-person board, which is elected by society members. One board member, whose identity was not revealed, complained:

"Having a board of 99 members is ludicrous. It gives the illusion of control and involvement, but its main function is to ensure the decisions " of the executive director."

Holt denied problems with the organization but said the society is willing to make changes with direction from the state.

-- Kendrick Blackwood's phone message number is 832-7221. His e-mail address is kblackwood@ljworld.com.

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