The director of the Watkins Community Museum of History has been dismissed as part of a shake-up in the management of the struggling nonprofit.
In a short news release, the board of directors of the Douglas County Historical Society - which oversees Watkins - announced that Rebecca Phipps no longer was director of the museum.
When contacted Thursday, Phipps said she did not resign from the museum, but she declined to go into specifics about her departure.
"At this point, I don't want to comment until I've had a chance to talk to an attorney," Phipps said.
Phyllis Tiffany, chairwoman of the historical society's board of directors, said there has been "a very clear trend downward in interest, membership, funding and our approach to membership and funding."
She said the museum's administrative structure needed to be reorganized to reverse that trend.
"There has been a tremendous awareness on the part of the board that a lot of changes had to be made, to join the 21st century, if you will," she said. "A lot of reorganization needed to be taken care of.
"Rebecca Phipps has a lot of skills and so forth, but they didn't seem to be compatible with what we're trying to do," Tiffany said.
Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said he did not know the specifics behind the dismissal. But he said county commissioners had expressed concerns to the museum board of directors, which is an independent organization that receives about $135,000 in county funding on an annual basis. Weinaug said the county has challenged the group to find revenue sources other than tax dollars.
"Watkins has made several efforts to do that in the past, but their success has been somewhat limited," Weinaug said. "The County Commission has expressed significant concern that they need to do a better job with that."
On Monday the County Commission agreed to provide $18,000 in funding to Destination Management Inc. to work with the museum on management issues. Destination Management Inc. is the new organization formed to manage the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage area. It is led by Judy Billings, who also is the director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.
An attempt to reach Billings for comment wasn't successful.
Weinaug said the new funding is, in part, an effort to better market the county's historical resources to tourists. He said he does not envision Destination Management Inc. serving as the director of the museum, but rather as an umbrella group for all the historical societies in the county.
Weinaug said an agreement is being worked on that would allow the County Commission to transfer all the funding it normally provides to historical societies to Destination Management Inc. DMI, in turn, would then distribute that funding to the individual historical societies.
Weinaug said the hope is the new funding relationship would give DMI the leverage it needs to get the traditionally independent historical societies to coordinate their activities and build on the county's historical resources.
"We think there may be a real significant shift in how historic resources in the community are capitalized on," Weinaug said. "It probably will require a willingness to do things differently."
Tiffany said the board hopes to find an interim director soon, but they aren't to that point yet. When an interim is found, they will begin to search for a permanent director "who has some knowledge in terms of these kinds of transitions and the problems and needs of these museums," she said.
Phipps served as the director of Watkins, 1047 Mass., since February 2003. She replaced longtime administrator and historian Steve Jansen, whose demotion and eventual departure sharply divided the historical society's membership.