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Museums board chided by county commissioners

Feb 5, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The elected leaders questioned the board's process on several issues.

The Fremont County Museums Board has three candidates for a central museums director after searching for nine months, but no hiring decision has been made yet.

After hearing the update Tuesday, the Fremont County Commission questioned the museums board's process and raised concerns about other issues.

The museums board had received 26 applications for the directorship, board member Tom Duncan said. The board interviewed five people, including one on Friday, but two of the finalists have withdrawn their applications.

Board members also had ranked applications of people who had not been interviewed.

The ranking seemed like an odd process to commission vice chairwoman Keja Whiteman.

"It seems like when you start to rank something in addition to what you saw, (you indicate) you didn't like what you saw," she said.

Board members Jon Lane and Carol Chidsey said they would like to choose from among the three candidates. Duncan thought some of the others were worth pursuing and suggested the ranking process.

"To me ... either you would like one of the candidates and ... if there's a majority of the board that wants that person, you'd make a motion and offer that person the job," Whiteman said. "And if not, that's OK, you go back and ... do a next round."

Problems with the museums board extend beyond the hiring process, commission chairman Doug Thompson said.

"It's been operated as individuals and not as a board," Thompson said. "That pretty much characterizes some of the problems we've had."

If the board wants to take an action, it should formally decide to do so and designate a person to carry out the decision, he said. Problems have arisen when the board members take action on their own, Thompson said.

Questions

Other commissioners had pointed questions for the museums board.

An administrative assistant for the museums board sent letters requesting more information to some of the candidates who were not interviewed, Duncan said.

"Was that a board decision, you asked her to follow up on things?" Whiteman asked.

Lane and Chidsey said they did not know their staff person had requested information from the candidates. Duncan had told the whole board at its meeting Jan. 9 that he would contact the applicants, he said.

"So if you have two board members who claim not to be aware of that, I don't have an answer for that," he said.

Some of the candidates did not provide all the information requested on the application, Duncan said.

"Typically if a candidate didn't submit what you asked them to submit that would be a major strike against them," Whiteman replied. "I don't think it's the responsibility of the county or museums board to say you get a second chance."

Part of the problem arose because the advertisement for the position contained a link to the wrong application, Duncan said.

Donor inquiry

Commissioner Travis Becker also was concerned that board members had tried to acquire a list of people who donated to the Dubois museum and wanted to remain anonymous.

"There's some questions raised that some people wanted to remain private," Becker said. "Why can't we remain private? Why can't you respect that in any respect, and why do you feel it's your responsibility to know that?"

Chidsey thought she likely was the board member who upset donors.

"I've been accused I'm going to go after donors, (but) we as board members, we are responsible to those donors for thanking them," she said.

It was appropriate for the board to know who the donors were, Lane said. A public entity should not have anonymous sources of income, he said, and non-profit organizations supporting the museums can receive anonymous donations.

Thompson raised his concern again about the board operating as individuals, asking if the museums board had decided to contact donors as a group.

There was no motion by the board to contact donors, Lane said.

The commission and museums board ended the meeting with a 45-minute executive session to discuss the January resignations of the Dubois Museum's director and its curator, and to discuss potential litigation. When the public session resumed, neither group discussed those issues further.

Correction: This story should have said Fremont County Museums Board member Tom Duncan spoke at the Fremont County Commission meeting Tuesday. The correction was made Feb. 5.