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Commission hears complaints from Dubois mayor
Dubois Mayor Twila Blakeman brought complaints about the Fremont County Museums Board to the Fremont County Commission. Photo by Eric Blom

Commission hears complaints from Dubois mayor

Jan 9, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Much of her appearance Tuesday concerned the county museum in Dubois.

Recent actions by the Fremont County Museums Board have incensed Dubois residents, the town's mayor, Twila Blakeman, told the Fremont County Commission on Tuesday.

She denounced the ouster of former Fremont County Museums Board chairman Steve Banks and the postponement of building a new Dubois museum.

Public records contradict some of her accusations, and museums board members countered others.

Facility postponed

The county told the Dubois Town Council it needed to transfer ownership of a plot of land before the county could build a new museum there, Blakeman said. The town did hand the land over to the county, but by December, the Museums Board had decided to postpone building the facility.

"I wanted you, the county commissioners, to know how very concerned we are on this," Blakeman said, noting every town council member has approached her about it.

The museums board would finish designing a new Dubois museum but put off building it for three to five years, acting museums board chairman Jon Lane told commissioners in December. Museum staff in Dubois had told the board the recently-opened assisted living center had sapped the fundraising capacity in the town, he said at the December meeting.

"I was essentially parroting the information former (Dubois) Museum director Katrina Krupicka gave us," Lane clarified in an interview.

Fundraising for the assisted-living center ended nine years ago, Blakeman told the county board.

"I think our community would step up to the plate," she said. "We've done it in the past, and we'd do it in the future"

Museum board chairman

Blakeman also said the museums board's move in November to remove Banks as chairman hurt the Dubois museum and implied that the process could have been illegal.

"If three members of the town council or three members of this (Fremont County Commission) meeting got together and decided what motion would be made, how they would vote before their meeting, they could be prosecuted and would be removed from office," Blakeman said.

At the museum board's Nov. 14 meeting, trustee Erin Shirley first sought to go into executive session to discuss removing Banks as chairman. After the board's lawyer said going into a closed meeting would be illegal, Shirley moved to remove Banks as chairman.

With no discussion, trustees Lane and Carol Chidsey supported the motion, enough votes to carry it despite the opposition of Banks and trustee Tom Duncan.

Chidsey at the meeting had on hand a written explanation for why Banks was removed as chairman, and she gave the document to Duncan after the vote.

Advance plan denied

In an interview Wednesday, Lane denied any inappropriate planning occurred.

"At no point in time that I'm aware of have any museums board members ... made decisions regarding public business improperly. And that's just my experience, and I know I have never held a meeting that may qualify as a public meeting with any board meeting not on the telephone, not on Skype or anything," he said. "The reasoning for that, and I buy into that completely, is I do not want to go down the path of public officials... meeting behind closed doors and conducting public business."

Lane made up his mind in the moment at the November meeting, he said.

"Until the motion was presented and seconded, I did not know, 'where do I stand on (Bank's) tenure as chairman?'" Lane said.

Blakeman thought the resignations of the director and the curator of the Dubois museum on Dec. 12 had to do with recent museums board decisions. She said the loss of the two staff imperiled the Dubois museums programming.

"It just breaks our heart to see our museums program in jeopardy," she said at the commission meeting.

Design funds

The mayor also was worried about $125,000 the county's Capital Improvement Projects Long-term Committee appropriated for designing the Dubois museum. So far the museums board has spent about $35,000.

Blakeman thought the museums board ad decided to use the remaining $90,000 on another project, but the board at past meetings showed it planned to keep using that money for the Dubois museum project.

A motion passed 3-1 at the board's Dec. 12 meeting to ask design firm Quinn and Company to submit a contract to finish a design. Architect Mike Quinn, at that meeting, said he could complete the plans for less than $90,000. Lane received the commission's support for using the $90,000 to finish the design on Dec. 10.

In the Wednesday interview, Lane said the new contract was being finalized.

"We are fully supportive of funding and maintaining that funding from the CIMPL committee to move forward with the Dubois museum," he said.

The county commission would look into some of the issues Blakeman raised, commission chairman Doug Thompson said.

Some commissioners said they were concerned.

"I do share your concern with the museum entities as a whole," Commissioner Travis Becker said. "I know that we're struggling in that area mightily, and, personally, I'm very concerned as well."

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Dubois
Fremont County Commission