Archive for Thursday, July 6, 2006

Financial troubles not history yet

Director asks County Commission for additional $14,500 in 2007 budget

July 6, 2006


Watkins Community Museum of History is struggling and needs more money, Douglas County commissioners were told Wednesday.

Sluggish fundraising and new expenses have caused financial hardships, museum director Rebecca Phipps said.

Phipps and Bill Myers, treasurer for the Douglas County Historical Society board of directors, which oversees the museum, appeared before commissioners as department and agency budget hearings got under way.

Phipps requested an additional $14,500 be included in the 2007 budget "just to maintain what we do now." That would bring the total to $135,000.

Commissioners weren't happy with the request, as the museum has battled economic problems in recent years. In 2004, a part-time consultant was hired to help generate donations and grants, set goals and come up with a plan to secure the museum's future.

That follows a management change that saw longtime museum director Steve Jansen ousted, as well as other changes on the board. Phipps replaced Jansen.

"We're not getting anywhere," Commissioner Bob Johnson said. "We can find the ($14,500) to put in the budget, but does it really, really help?"

Commissioner Charles Jones questioned whether the historical society board was doing what is necessary for fundraising. He also asked whether the museum should make cuts to pay for hiring a fundraiser.

Phipps noted that the museum had developed new exhibits during the past year and eliminated others that had existed for 20 years. She said artifacts were being catalogued and entered into a database, something that wasn't done before.

Without the additional funding, "the museum might as well close," Phipps said.

Commissioners made no decisions concerning the museum funding request nor others that were presented.

"Somebody has to figure out how this institute breaks out of the mold it is in," Johnson said.

Later, during the Wednesday night County Commission meeting, Jones suggested that a "retreat" be organized for the museum and the historical society board to discuss what to do about the museum.

The overall county budget will be approved later this month after other hearings and adjustments are made to the budget as proposed by County Administrator Craig Weinaug.

That budget calls for more than $54.18 million in expenditures, including contingency funds that might not need to be spent. The proposed 30.18 mill levy is slightly higher than the 2005 mill levy of 30.099. That is due primarily to recent changes in railroad and utility valuations.

Changes could be made, however, as commissioners over the next few days hear requests for funding.

Among other funding requests heard Wednesday:

l David Johnson, chief executive at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, spoke for continued funding of the Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities program in school systems. He is seeking $225,000 from the county for a program that last year provided mental health services for 3,199 students. Funding also is sought from the school districts and the City of Lawrence.

l The Douglas County Fair Board of Directors wants $56,971 for additional seating at the outdoor arena at the fairgrounds. The new bleachers would seat 180 people and replace older bleachers that would be moved to the stage area for music shows. The funding also would allow for building a new "crow's nest" or public address and officials' box.

l The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce leaders requested to add $75,534 to Douglas County Economic Development.


Sigmund 11 years, 5 months ago

There is a Watkins Community Museum of History?

Eric Neuteboom 11 years, 5 months ago

I just can't help but recall what a shame it was to see Steve go. I have not gone back to the museum since they ousted him, and may not again. Steve was the museum (and what a joke when they say how items were not being entered into a database there not the human mind the first version of such a database? Anyone who met Steve knows what I'm talking about). And my experience with that board...jeeze, what a bunch of old fuddy-duddies. I guess the easiest thing for them to do is to show up, hat-in-hand, begging, nay, threatening ("the museum might as well close") to close. Sadly, I can't see a positive ending in all this. I wonder how much the botton-line has improved since they ousted Steve. Apparently, not much. But at least they alienated most of the city in the process...

lunacydetector 11 years, 5 months ago

i agree. i protested when they ousted steve. just a bunch of pompous fuddy duddies. why not have that committee select one person from amongst themselves to volunteer every month, for a whole month, running the library. certainly most are retired anyway, that, or they can make the time.

TopekaBlade 11 years, 5 months ago

First of all, I think the board and staff does need to find itself and where it is going. Walking into a meeting governmental board and saying "the museum might as well close" is not a smart strategy. They need to show what they offer to the community.

Having said that, however, there is a response that is necessary here--Steve Jansen is gone. He is not the answer. Get over it, get past him, and move forward.

Steve's a nice guy. Not a bad historian. Knows more about Quantrill's Raid than anybody.

But he was no museum director. A museum director, has a lot to oversee. Take this quote: "Steve was the museum (and what a joke when they say how items were not being entered into a database there not the human mind the first version of such a database? Anyone who met Steve knows what I'm talking about). "

Well, this is precious...but a museum can't rely on their records being in someone's head. People move on. They die. It is the director's responsibility to see that a useful database exists so that anyone can understand what the museum has. This is a failure on his part that it wasn't done.

While he was director, museums of comparable size in Kansas cities of comparable size made major leaps thanks to the skill of the directors. I refer specifically to Hutchinson and Salina, although the latter has had some problems of its own. It should have been happening in Lawrence as well, but the wrong person was in the office. A good historian. Just not a good director.

The current staff and board may not be the right people, either. But one thing is certain, and it may sound odd to say it about a museum: the future of the Watkins does not lie with its past.

lunacydetector 11 years, 5 months ago

what exactly does a museum director do anyway? promote the museum? steve certainly did that. i don't think the new girl is a museum director technically, is she?

TopekaBlade 11 years, 5 months ago

Two different uses of the word director here--the museum director is the person who oversees the daily operation of the museum, and to put it as briefly as possible, strives to assure that it is run according to the standards and ethics of the profession. That covers a lot of ground. Research and promotion is only part of it.

Too many people responding here don't seem to grasp that it is a profession.

The board of directors--which probably ought to be called trustees to avoid confusion--set policy for the museum and, while not involved in the day-to-day operation of the museum, need to take a role in some matters--such as fundraising. Whether the current board is up to it seems to be a major question.

Is the "new girl" technically a museum director? Well, of course she is. And today's letter (July 7) suggests that she has a better grasp of the duties of the museum director than Steve did. I can't image him trying to write such a letter, because I don't think he would understand the issue.

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